We welcomed Allie at 11:12 pm on Thursday, January 26, 2012. She is happy and healthy and perfect. I hit a little bump in the road after she was born, but everyone is doing just fine now. While I was pregnant I loved reading birth stories, so I figured I’d write one of my own. What I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to do. This post has been in draft form for over a week now while I’ve processed the whole experience.
My contractions started at about 9am on Thursday. Still convinced that Allie was going to stay an inside baby until at least a week after her due date, I assumed it was false labor and went about my day. I did let Jesse know he might want to come home early, but I assured him that there was no rush. He was much more convinced it was the real thing, so he was home by 1. And I told him to take a nap. It didn’t cross my mind to do the same. Like I said, I was positive this wasn’t the real thing. So I putzed around the house until about 5, when I finally decided I should try to rest. By then the pain was starting to pick up, but the contractions were still between 10 and 15 minutes apart.
Just as I got into bed, a strong contraction hit, and I suddenly didn’t think the bed sounded all that comfortable. I went to get my yoga ball, and my water broke just as I went to sit down. I yelled for Jesse to wake up, and we sprang into action.
Due to a paralyzing fear of needles, I planned to have a natural birth. Jesse and I attended Bradley Method classes, and I spent a lot of time preparing myself to relax through the pain. We knew that having my water break put me on a 12 hour countdown for a c-section, so we wanted to make sure things were moving as much as possible before we went into the hospital.
In those first few minutes after my water broke, we made big plans. Let’s go for a walk around the block, let’s go down the street and grab a quick dinner so I can keep my energy up, that kind of thing. Allie had other plans. My contractions started coming closer together. We scrapped the walk and I sent Jesse out to get me something high in protein and/or carbs.
While he was gone I jumped in the shower. I have always found warm water to be the best relief for abdominal pain, and labor pains were no exception. Unfortunately, the hot water heater at our house is terrible, and by the time Jesse returned with food the shower was barely warm. I moved to my bed and tried to eat, but the pain was getting bad enough that I’d lost my appetite. By this point, contractions were between 4 and 7 minutes apart, but not reliably timeable. This would prove to be a problem throughout labor, because I did a terrible job of anticipating when the next wave was about to hit.
We decided to head into the hospital, if only so I could get back in the shower. The ride over was surreal. I kept thinking “I’m having a baby tomorrow,” and not quite being able to believe it.
We arrived at the hospital at almost exactly 8:00, and I was in a room and on monitors in no time. My nurse, Song, was an absolute hero. She asked once what I was interested in for pain, and when I said “no needles” she nodded and never asked again. She told me I was 6 cm dilated and let me in the shower after 15 minutes on the monitors. After that, she brought the wireless monitor into the bathroom every half hour or so and checked me while I stayed in the shower. She also put a yoga ball and a pillow in the tub for me so I wouldn’t have to stand/sit on the porcelain. I spent most of my contractions kneeling on the pillow with my upper body leaned against the ball. That way, the shower hit right in the small of my back, which was perfect.
I completely lost track of time, but I remember hitting transition vividly. Even though I knew, intellectually that transition is the shortest part of labor, and that getting there meant things were moving nice and fast, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking I still had hours and hours left to go. So when the contractions started piling on top of each other, I panicked. It’s hard to relax and control your breathing when you’re panicking, so probably about half to 3/4 of my contractions during this time were excruciating. I flat out wailed through most of them, and did my fair share of crying. But there were a few that I was able to anticipate just a moment ahead of time, and the difference was amazing. Jesse likened it to riding waves. When I saw the wave coming I could catch it and ride it through, but when I turned my back I got knocked under.
I was still in the shower when I started feeling the urge to push. I was only 8cm, so Song had me stay put for another 15 minutes, then we moved to the bed. I had wanted to try squatting through the pushing phase, but I was so exhausted at this point that I didn’t even attempt it. My doctor arrived, and she and Song had me do 3 pushes for each contraction. Pushing was simultaneously the best and worst part of the whole thing. It’s a relief to actually do something through the contractions, but it’s also discouraging to exert so much energy and not feel any progress. It was somewhere around 10:45 when I started pushing, so I’d been at the hospital for under 3 hours. But I still had it in my head that I had hours left to go.
On about the 5th pushing contraction, I really started to feel her coming. I also really started to feel like I couldn’t do it anymore. The pain was bad, but the exhaustion was worse. I remember just wishing I could stop and take a nap and finish later. Maybe 2 or 3 pushes later her head was out, and everyone was yelling for one last push. My response? “I can’t.” But I did, and Allie was on my chest a full 48 minutes before her due date. For all that thinking she was going to be late, then thinking it would take her forever to arrive, I should have remembered who this baby is named after. My grandmother was always early.
I wrote all that days ago, and I wish I could just end the story there because I love it. I’m amazed at myself for being able to go through it without drugs, and I’m so glad that Allie is healthy. But what happened next was hard, and I don’t think I even realized how hard it was until I started writing it out. I barely remember those precious moments right after the birth, when they laid her on my chest. I have this one picture, taken on Jesse’s phone about 20 minutes after she was born. Without it I would never remember how she looked swollen and red and brand, brand new.
I tried to do the whole immediate breastfeeding thing, but that lasted all of about 30 seconds. I had a pain in my tailbone that I just couldn’t think past, so when she didn’t latch immediately I couldn’t concentrate on trying. I just let them take her–all of the first shots, exam, and bath were done in the room, but I might as well have been in another world. You know how all hospitals have the 1-10 pain scale. I put labor pains at an 8. Jesse tells me that when they asked where my pain was after delivery, I replied–with no humor–“eleven.”
It’s hard to describe exactly how it felt, but it centered right in my left butt cheek, and any kind of pressure made it worse. So sitting was impossible, and lying down was excruciating. Standing felt best, but I was so tired I couldn’t support my own weight. Song was amazing. Her shift had ended before eleven, but she refused to leave until my pain was gone. She ended up staying at the hospital past 4 am.
After about an hour of trying to bear through the pain, I asked for drugs. Yes, you read that right. I went through labor and delivery without so much as an IV port in my arm, and then I asked for pain relief. But it gets better. A shot of Fentanyl, 2 shots of Morphine, and a shot of Toradol (on top of a Vicodin that I’d taken in an attempt to continue to avoid needles) did nothing for me. Somewhere between the first and second shots of Morphine, my doctor came back and determined that the cause was a hematoma. She tried to repair it there in the delivery room, but after maybe an hour of working she determined it was going to require real surgery.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up getting a spinal block right after my completely natural childbirth. My paralyzing fear of having a needle stuck in my back was out the window. Almost. I did argue with the doctor and the anesthesiologist briefly about general anesthesia, because the port was already in my arm. They convinced me that the recovery time with the block was shorter, so I’d be able to see the baby sooner. As it turns out, the separation time would have probably been about the same.
At around 3 am, I was wheeled into the operating room and the block was started. For a brief while, I was on cloud nine. The pain was gone! They were going to fix me! I couldn’t feel my legs! I felt so relaxed! Soon it would be over and I would have my baby back!
Then the anesthesiologist asked me to start taking slow, deep breaths. A few seconds later my doctor asked one of the nurses to hold my leg because it kept falling off the table. I realized, almost simultaneously how completely numb I was, and that I was so relaxed I was forgetting to breathe. I started to get scared, but I focused on my deep breathing and reminded myself it would be over soon. Then my doctor asked to have another surgeon paged, and I started to panic.
It turned out the on-call surgeon was 45 minutes away. My doctor kept working while they waited for him. All around me the nurses, doctor, and the anesthesiologist discussed my heart rate, my blood type, and how much time was left on the block. Then I really panicked. I figured out they were trying to determine whether or not I’d need a blood transfusion, and I started to worry about just how bad my condition was. Then the shaking started. It’s a common side effect of the spinal, but I have no doubt that it was made worse by my mental state. I didn’t feel cold, but I couldn’t stop shivering. My teeth chattered so hard I was worried I would bite my tongue. They brought me warm blankets, and I tried to force myself to relax. I focused on watching the clock, though I don’t think my brain actually registered the time.
Finally, the on-call surgeon arrived, and the rest of the procedure went relatively quickly. One of the nurses came over to talk to me, which helped to calm me down. She was the one who told me I’d be going to the ICU when everything was finished, but she assured me that I’d just be there for a few hours while they observed me.
As I was wheeled out of the Operating Room, I realized that it might be several more hours before I got to see Allie, and I’d only held her for those few minutes right after she was born. I was irrationally worried about her being given formula since I couldn’t be there to feed her. I asked to see her before they took me up to the main hospital. They let me hold her for about 5 minutes, and I did the obligatory counting of the fingers and toes. She was so sweet, and that time was much too short.
Once they got me settled in the ICU, my doctor and the surgeon came up to fill Jesse and me in on what had gone on. The hematoma had been much larger than they initially expected, and I’d lost almost 2 liters of blood. So I was getting a blood transfusion, and they wanted to observe me for 24 hours to make sure I didn’t start bleeding again. The maternity ward wasn’t equipped to provide me with the attention I needed, so I was stuck in the ICU at least until the transfusion was over. Still, I don’t think the severity of the situation really registered with me. All I worried about was feeding my baby and myself. My only two questions were “Can Allie stay up here with us?” and “Am I allowed to eat.”
The answer to the first question was no. Babies aren’t allowed in the ICU, which makes sense. They did make an exception and told me they’d send a nurse up with her whenever they could. I was allowed to eat, but breakfast service wouldn’t be for several more hours. My ICU nurse did bring me a pack of crackers and some water.
I was wide awake and anxious to see Allie again. I asked them to bring her up as soon as possible, and I stayed awake, waiting. It was about 5 am when I got to the ICU. I dozed off some, but mostly sat up watching the clock. Every time a nurse came in I asked if they could bring me my baby. I even called the nursery from my cell phone. Finally, at 11:15, 12 hours after her birth, she was brought to me. The nurse who brought her up was great. Apparently the nursery had been short-staffed that morning, and they’d spent hours trying to call people in so they could have someone to bring Allie to me. She also brought me a breast pump, and gave me my first (of many) breastfeeding lesson.
Jesse got to be an expert at changing, burping and diapering. I was connected to a heart monitor, a blood pressure cuff, an IV (of blood!), a catheter, and a little red light on my finger tip that measured the oxygen level in my blood, all of which pretty thoroughly prevented me from getting out of bed.
After the initial visit, Allie was brought to us just about every 4 hours, and the pump and I got to be good friends. By her second or third trip up, she was sporting a bandaid on her heel. My poor baby got a shot without her mommy or daddy there.
Saturday morning I woke at about 4am, full of excitement. My 24 hours was almost up, and I was going to get transferred to the maternity ward any minute. Of course I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. By mid-morning, the pediatrician came to see me. Allie was doing great, and they set up an appointment for me on Monday morning. Then she mentioned explained that since Allie was fine, our insurance required that she be released that afternoon. If I wasn’t transferred to Maternity by then, the baby would have to go home without me. By an hour later, I was flipping out. My doctor still had to come and check me, but she was back in surgery and wouldn’t be able to see me until 11. The nursery thought I was being transferred early in the morning, so I didn’t think they were going to bring Allie to me again. I got really worried that I was going to have to spend another night in the hospital, and that Jesse and the baby were going to have to go home.
I started sobbing, and alarms went off everywhere. Apparently crying raises your heart rate significantly. Strangely, the desire not to have people run in to check on my calmed me down at least enough to stop crying. Of course, within minutes Allie was being wheeled into the room, and my doctor was right behind her. I’d made quite the habit of losing my cool *just* before everything worked out. We got to our new room in the maternity ward right around 1pm.
From there, the story goes back to I guess what you would call “normal.” Friends came to visit, Allie passed her hearing test, we spent our first night together as a family, I continued to try to get the hang of breastfeeding. We were released about 24 hours later.
Now every day brings a new challenge and a new adventure. Eventually I’ll find time to craft again, but right now I have this little baby to cuddle.