The Mama Letters: Birth story
For those of you interested in such details, here's the story of Will's birth, from my POV.
I was 38 weeks and 4 days... I woke up when my husband went to work. What was on my mind? Taking my car to Firestone because my inspection was overdue and the AC wasn't working right. It was starting to get hot in Texas and I wanted to get it fixed and behind me.
I ate a mocha oatmeal muffin from a recipe in The Back in the Day Bakery cookbook (divine) and stopped by Starbucks to get a caramel macchiato, then took the car in around 10:00 and spend several relatively contented hours sitting in the waiting room. I had my laptop so I played free cell and this kept me distracted. When they finally delivered the bad news, not only will fixing the AC cost beaucoups of green, but the part they need won't arrive until an indeterminate time the next day, I was on the verge of tears. Because gosh darn it, I had plans for the next day. I'd been looking forward to them all week. I was going to spend the afternoon with my friend Em and then I was going to this chichi fun little event at something called The Bump Club.
My husband came to pick pouty me up from Firestone and as I was walking out to his car I felt pelvic pressure and moaned "I should have used the bathroom again", but as I sat in the car, I realized what I was feeling was different - more like a cramp. I was quiet and relieved to see him and just touched his arm until it passed.
About 15 minutes after I got home I felt a bit of unusual liquid feeling between my legs and when I went to the bathroom I knew it wasn't pee. It was pink. And there was more of it. My first thought (besides "oh crap) was what the heck is this? Water breaking? Bloody show? Mucus plug?
I quickly called Em, followed by my doula. Both were convinced it was bloody show/mucus plug, which could mean labor coming soon, or... not much... maybe labor coming in two weeks. So I was excited, but not too whipped up. It was a sign, but maybe not a sign of much. I didn't even call to tell my husband. I didn't want to get him concerned, much less try to explain bloody show and mucus plugs over the phone while he was working.
So I sat back on the couch put in a (lame) movie I'd gotten from Netflix and waited to see what happened next. I began to have crampy sensations, but they were still so far apart as to not even be measurable. It didn't seem like much. But it was enough to make me feel like sticking to the couch. So around 4:30 I called my husband to tell him I wasn't cooking dinner tonight and ask him to bring home takeout. "and oh, by the way, there's a chance I might go into labor tonight..." I dropped into the conversation casually, but I told him it was nothing to worry about, no need to rush home.
Welllll... within an hour things intensified to the point where I was calling Jim to say "You need to come home. NOW." He arrived an hour later to find a wife who wasn't even interested in eating the takeout he'd brought home. I also couldn't seem to track my own contractions, so I was commanding him to download an app NOW on his iPhone and telling him he HAD to help me track the contractions. I called my doula and she began to head to my house.
By the time she arrived at 8:00 I was in a fog of pain, sitting in a hot bath Jim had drawn for me. I had already begun breaking down at this point. She was so gentle and kind and encouraging. She brought her birth ball and tried to help me get into positions to better relax. Honestly, I'm not sure it did anything because I was already so far gone. Relatively quickly we decided to head to the hospital. That was an ordeal in and of itself - my bags were only partly packed and through the fog, I had to try to direct my husband and doula as to the missing items, which ended up in some comedy later as I saw what was packed.
The contractions seemed to be coming so hard and fast, it took a lot of time just to get out to the car, but I barely remember the car ride, and when we arrived at the hospital, it felt as if my field of vision was so narrow - I saw almost nothing to the sides, above me or below me. I remember being in triage, asking when, when I could get the epidural. I had already decided I wanted one. I still feel a sense of shame about this, as if I'm a lesser woman, with lesser strength and endurance. But I've got to say that I know what I was feeling and I know what was going on seemed more fast and intense than your average labor I've read about.
I had mentally prepared myself for a long, slow labor of a first time mother - not this. I had no time to practice hypnobabies, to try aromatherapy, no power to try different positions. This was no marathon - this was riding a bucking bull and hanging on for dear life. When they checked me in triage, they confirmed my water had been broken already (something I had felt instinctively earlier in the day) and that I was 4 cm dilated. About 90 minutes later, after the epidural blessedly arrived they checked me again and I was 9 and a half cm dilated.
That epidural felt like an oasis. I suddenly felt like myself again. At peace. Black sense of humor returned (which is when I finally reminded Jim to take this photo of me, sardonically holding up the epidural button), cracking jokes with myself and everyone else. They let me rest for awhile before starting to push. I still felt ashamed about the epidural, but I felt as if I was here, I had made it - I was almost fully dilated and ready to push! I was having this baby! I had been through the hardest part already!
Close to midnight, the pushing began. Due to the epidural, I couldn't feel alot and didn't have much control, but I gave it my darnedest. Somewhere along the way, the doctor began to notice the baby's heart rate decelerating - decels they called it. I think I was too out of it to know what was happening, but finally the doctor told me I really needed to give it my all pushing, because she needed to get this baby out, and she might need to use a vacuum extraction assisted delivery. So I pushed. And pushed. I assume no change, because she then went on to use the vacuum. I was in a haze of pushing, but according to my husband, this was pretty stressful as the vacuum kept slipping off baby's head.
Finally, the doctor said, "That's it. We've got to do a c-section." And immediately the work to prep me began - it seemed like mere seconds before they were wheeling me down the hall to the operating room. Jim couldn't come with me. When I arrived, there was frantic activity and they said they needed to do a "splash and go" - when I asked what this meant, they said it meant they needed to do it as quickly as possible. Geez. That's reassuring. So I had five people all around me prepping me simultaneously. The anesthesiologist was trying to top off my epidural, which had been wearing off, but there wasn't enough time and they decided to do general anesthesia on me. The medicine burned as it went in my IV and that's the last thing I remember before gradually waking up in the recovery room in lots of pain.
Jim was there, holding my hand, telling me that baby was born at 3:12 am, that he was healthy, that he was okay, that he was beautiful. In that moment that's all I had - Jim, pain, and the distant notion of baby, somewhere waiting to meet me. Around 7 am, they wheeled me into the postpartum room and around 8 am my heart exploded as the nurses came through the door wheeling one of those hospital bassinets into the room. I was finally going to get to meet my baby (the baby who still had no name, since we hadn't decided on one yet).
I will tell you that this has been one of the hardest things for me... not getting to see baby right away, to see that umbilical cord that had held us together, not getting to hear his first cries, not getting to hold him to my chest, not having that first picture of us together, not getting to see the expression on my husband's face as he first saw our boy. It still makes me cry sometimes when I talk about it.
But now he was there in the room with us, and a nurse was standing there instructing me on how to breastfeed. I was still hooked up to IVs and pain meds and catheters - my memories are vague - and this makes me sad as well. But I know my baby was beautiful and I loved him so much it hurt.
I had dreaded having medical interventions - having a C-section was top on my list of things I didn't want to happen. There were no official explanations given to me as to why, but one of the doctors later explained, based on baby's head and where the vacuum extraction had left it's mark, that the baby's chin wasn't flexed and bent and the head was malpositioned - no amount of pushing would have changed that. In a way that eased my mind.
I'm still reflecting on and processing this birth experience - still healing in soul and body. I went through almost a full vaginal delivery and a C-section. It wasn't the birth I planned for, expected, or wanted. And yet it wasn't the worst thing in the world. I feel surprised at how well I handled it. But I also feel surprised at the moments of grief that pop up over little things.
What happened next, in the days that followed, I will share in more posts to come...