And then, out of nowhere…there he was. – Juno MacGuff
Since this is my third baby, I harbored few illusions about how much I would “get done” while on maternity leave. So I did not expect to write a slew of blog posts. I admit I did think I’d get at least a couple done by now. But there was math homework and art projects and three baths (maybe once a week) and colds and coughs and just general sleep deprivation and lack of discipline (hey, I did watch all 53 episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix. I mean, that takes commitment).
But I need to get the birth story out almost as much as I needed to get that baby out twelve weeks ago. So let’s go back before the poop-outs and the spit-ups, before the nights he was up every two hours (thankfully few), before my three-year-old daughter’s regression (“I’m a baby, wipe my bottom Mommy!”), before postnatal yoga, even before the throes of establishing breastfeeding (definitely a post for another day).
As my due date approached, I lay awake in the early morning hours, the baby kicking (hard, still – weren’t they supposed to ease off at nine months?). Sometimes it still felt a bit more like “alien baby” than baby. I reminded myself that this has always been how pregnancy felt to me, even when the baby was one we set out to have from the beginning. There is nothing more natural than carrying a baby – and yet, to have this growing body kicking around inside me just felt unnatural sometimes.
My labor and delivery started in much the same manner as they did for my older children. A routine post-term checkup. An ultrasound revealing very low (in this case, no) amniotic fluid. (Where did it go? How has this happened three times and I never notice?). Which meant I would have to be induced. My husband and I were actually pleased when we heard the word “induction”. We’ve been through this twice before, after all. And now we knew we’d get to have the baby today! No mad dash to the hospital! No calls to relatives in the middle of the night! “It’s like checking into a hotel,” my husband said, grinning as I excitedly updated my Facebook status to “TODAY’S THE DAY!”
The nurses laughed, but their eyes showed concern. The on-call OB soon arrived (my doctor was on vacation, of course – not one of my kids was delivered by my regular OB) and explained that the same ultrasound that revealed low fluid also showed a baby that wasn’t moving. This seemed strange, since I could feel him moving, the fetal monitor showed plenty of motion, and the nurses could see him moving just watching my belly. Just to be sure, another ultrasound was ordered. Once again, baby refused to peform. For the first time, I heard the word, “c-section” used to refer to me. All I could think was, that can’t possibly be necessary, he’s fine, we can hear his heartbeat, I can feel him moving. But it was clear from that moment that this was going to be a more “interesting” birth than the other two – or at least, more closely monitored.
The next step, the OB and nurses explained, was to monitor the baby through some induced contractions to determine whether he could tolerate labor and delivery. As the nurse started the oxytocin drip, I texted my sister, “I can hear them sharpening their scalpels!” But there would be no scalpels yet – baby did just fine. On to induction, right? Not so fast. Unfortunately, the cervix – or the “door” that my daughter kept asking me about when we talked about baby brother’s arrival – was shut tight. I was allowed a meal (a sure sign of nothing happening anytime soon) and given Cervidil (a “ripening agent” – and I promise this is as graphic as I’m going to get). I tried not to look disappointed when the OB said it would take twelve hours to work. After all, as several nurses (I’d already seen the first of many shift changes) reminded me, this process takes two weeks to occur naturally, and I was starting from square one. I updated my formerly exuberant Facebook status to a less-than-thrilled “Gonna be a long haul” and tried to relax while I waited for the Cervidil to work.
I should’ve tried harder. As evening approached, I started to cramp. Oh good, I thought, I’m finally starting labor. But when I got up and moved around, the cramps dissipated, meaning they weren’t “real” labor pains. Unfortunately, by then it was 11pm and I was tired and didn’t want to move around. So I lay awake, listening to my husband sleep and hoping the cramps meant the Cervidil was working. If it wasn’t, I’d be seeing the surgeon in the morning.
This was the first of several low points, where my body just seemed to refuse to progress. Periodically throughout the night I could hear newborns squalling, and I was shocked at the visceral jealousy I felt. I wished I’d had to have a c-section, because I’d already have my baby and be in recovery by then. I grabbed my phone and turned to Facebook for distraction. There I found dozens of encouraging messages from my friends and family. Say what you will about social media – in those moments of discouragement and worry, it was tremendous to be able to receive kind words from so many. Thanks to everyone who took a moment to cheer me on. I know social media can be taken to extremes – my OB mentioned a patient who was updating her status while he was checking her cervix – but in my case, it helped me refocus on the positive and on the end goal, instead of on the difficult moment I was in. I hope you will continue to encourage your friends, and I will endeavor to do the same. Who couldn’t use more love?
At 3:30am, the Cervidil was removed and the OB checked my progress. We’d gone far enough to proceed with the induction (phew, evaded the scalpel again!). We started IV oxytocin and cramps began again, but quickly vanished when I got up. Eventually, the nurse checked me and said I’d made virtually no progress after hours of oxytocin (=Low Point #2). The OB was called (a new one this time – shift change!) to verify this and again decide if we should continue with the induction or try something else (besides c-section, there were other therapies for flattening the cervix that sounded so painful that I couldn’t even let myself consider the possibility). I went back to Facebook and the “therapy” of my friends’ encouraging comments. When the doctor arrived an hour later – lo and behold! – I was dilated 4cm and having real contractions. Hoorah! In labor for real!
I dithered about the epidural for maybe five minutes. I had received epidurals for both of my other deliveries. This would be my last chance to “experience” childbirth without the aid of anesthesia. Then I considered how tired I was. I hadn’t slept in at least 36 hours. It came down to this: Getting an epidural would allow me to take a nap, so I got one. I started to regret my decision when I awoke, as the nurse checked me and said I’d made very little progress during my nap. With my eldest, I’d slept overnight with an epidural, and awoke in the morning nearly ready to deliver (yes, it was awesome, thank you). Now I felt foolish – Low Point #3. Yet when the OB arrived, I’d made it to 7cm. And on we went.
This scenario repeated itself one more time – a check at around 8pm showed very little progress. Ho-hum. No need to call the OB this time; we’d wait a little longer. At about 8:30, my epidural suddenly seemed to stop working. There was a button I could push to give myself a “boost”, so I pushed it. It did nothing. The nurse said I could try the button again in 15 minutes, so I did. Still nothing. I had gone from no pain (no sensation, actually) to incredibly intense pain in the space of about 15 minutes. Not fun. I had always wondered how I would behave in intense labor pain. Would I curse? Rail at my husband? Apparently (and to my relief), neither. I pretty much just grabbed the sides of the hospital bed and whispered, “Make it stop,” over and over.
The OB arrived and did her check. Her eyes grew round and she said, “Don’t sneeze.” In less than an hour, I’d gone from 7cm to ready-to-push (no wonder it hurt so much). Three pushes later, my son was in my arms and I was laughing and crying hysterically, shouting, “I had a baby! I can’t believe it!”
Twelve weeks later, part of me still can’t. Watching him now, asleep on my lap, it’s hard to believe he’s real, and really mine. I don’t know what the future holds for this young one (a year ago, I still didn’t know it held him). But I am grateful for this child, and for this moment of peace.