(It’s a long one, so TL;DR : I had a baby. It was awesome.)
This story starts off with a hunch.
I had a hunch, not long ago, that Caroline was not going to wait till her due date to come earthside. I don’t know how I had this hunch, I just did. That was the first hunch I had.
Last week, I just had a hunch that something was up. I felt lousy. My stomach hurt almost every day. I just felt run down. Thursday night, Halloween, I felt completely miserable, upset stomach and sore muscles. (And I didn’t even get to have any candy!) All early signs of labor. And maybe I was just in denial about the whole thing because I really had it in my head that knowing my luck, I would go past my due date. I hadn’t even packed any bags. All I was thinking about was that I only had one more week left of work, and then I could have that nesting time and finish cleaning my house, make the baby book, get everything ready and then do what everyone always seems to do and just wait it out.
Friday I kept having another hunch. Saturday, we were supposed to go down the valley for a memorial service for a family member of mine who passed a few months ago, and then Cameron and I had arranged a small babymoon–show tickets and a hotel in Denver. All day Friday though, I was really nervous about going down to valley. Highway 36 still hadn’t opened which meant we would have to take the long way around, almost 2 1/2 hours to Denver. I kept worrying–what if something happened and we were 2 1/2 hours away from the hospital? All day I couldn’t shake the notion that it just wasn’t a good idea to go down, but I couldn’t really justify canceling all our plans especially on a non-refundable hotel reservation over a hunch.
Saturday morning, Cameron and I were laying in bed being lazy since we didn’t have to get up and leave till after 11. We were watching videos on his phone and I rolled over to look and something happened.
“I either just peed myself or my water broke.”
Cameron evidently didn’t hear me–or thought I was joking–but I got up quickly and hurried to the bathroom in time for a terrific gush of something that was definitely not pee. All righty then. I called Cameron in and told him I thought my water just broke. We immediately got on the phone with my OB–I felt bad because it was before 8 on a Saturday, but he had just given us his personal phone with explicit instructions to call if we needed anything. When I told him what happened he said to go over to the hospital and get it checked out. While I got ready–and continued to leak fluid all over the place–Cameron got on the phone with my parents to let them know what was going on.
Around 8:30 we walked into the ER and were ushered back to a room that was not in the birthing center and the labor/delivery nurse, Joanne, told us that there were 2 people in the center who had just had babies the day before and were still waiting to be discharged, so until they left I’d have to stay in this other room. Then she asked how frequent my contractions were–and I told her I wasn’t having any.
“Oh, we’ll probably just send you home then and you can come back when things progress.”
PHEW. I was really worried they’d want to keep me and I’d be stuck at the hospital for all of my early labor. I got changed into a gown (and left another lake’s worth of fluid on the bathroom floor) and Joanne hooked me up to the belly monitors to make sure everything was kosher and did the litmus paper thingy to find out for sure if my water had broken, though by that point I had zero doubt it had. The baby sounded fine, and I was having contractions according to the monitor, but very small ones that I didn’t feel at all. Joanne declared that I was about 2cm dilated and sent me home, telling me that Dr. K would call me in a few hours to check in. (Knowing that he had delivered TWO babies the day before really made me feel bad for calling him so early on a Saturday!)
My mom texted to say that she was packed and ready to hit the road to come to us. I was really relieved that she was going to come–originally she had planned to come for the birth and stay with us for a week to help out, but that was contingent on waiting until the 11th when she could have the time off work. Since it was the weekend, though, she was able to at least come up till Sunday. I called her and asked if she could pick up a baby book for us since we still didn’t have one (I was going to make one) and I didn’t want to miss out on getting footprints in the book. We got home and I took a shower, Cameron started tidying up the house, and we packed up my bags, got the car seat ready, the whole nine. My doctor called around 11 and said that if things didn’t pick up by that evening he’d want me back at the hospital to get things rolling because he didn’t want me to go too long since the risk of infection was there. I wasn’t super pleased with this, as I was hoping that he’d give me till the next morning, but it was what it was. My mom arrived around noon, Cameron ran to the store to stock up on some groceries for the next few days, and I finally wrote our birth plan (another thing I was procrastinating on) and then we all finally sat down to breathe.
And then nothing happened. Which is sort of weird because usually the water breaking indicates “hey! baby coming now!” From the moment my water broke until much later that night, I didn’t have a single noticeable contraction. Maybe a couple squeezing sensations here and there, but absolutely nothing happened. We took a walk around the block, I sat on the exercise ball, we did lunges, I put tabasco on my lunch…and nothing. I started growing increasingly disappointed, because I knew if nothing was happening by that night, I’d end up getting induced and that terrified me because it was the number one thing I had hoped to avoid. Around 2 or 3 Cameron got a call from the doctor who was checking to see how things were going, and Cameron expressed to him that I was concerned about induction. Dr K said we wouldn’t go immediately to Pitocin, but instead they would give me Ctyotec to soften the cervix and hopefully get things rolling that way, since he knew that I really wanted to go naturally and he wanted to support that. We told him we would be back at the hospital by 7 at the latest if nothing happened before then.
And nothing did. We got about a quarter of the way through watching Braveheart and decided that since nothing had happened already, nothing was likely to happen by 7, so we packed up the car and headed over, despite my mounting disappointment. When we got there I was immediately hooked up to the monitors and Dr K came in and gave me a dosage of Cytotec, and then he said he was going home and that he would be back later when we were ready to deliver. He said it was likely that nothing would happen for a long time.
And nothing did. Fancy that. Because of the Cytotec, I had to lie in bed on my side for up to 3 hours at a time, which just made me miserable and disappointed and sore. And still not a single contraction. Part of the way through watching Saturday Night Live, the nurse came in and said that I could get out of bed until the next dose of Cytotec, which made me feel a lot better. I went back to the standard–sat on the ball, did lunges, had Cameron rub my back. But by the time she came back at 11:30 for my second dose of Cytotec (at which time I was at 3cm, 60% effaced), I still hadn’t felt any contractions.
Finally, about 12:30 or so, I was lying in the bed starting to feel sorry for myself, and finally started feeling something. The monitor thingy confirmed that I was indeed having contractions. My first thought was relief that my body was finally doing something and that I was finally walking in the other direction from having to be put on Pitocin. I think somewhere around 1 or 1:30 the nurse said I could get out of bed, as long as I stayed hooked up to the belly monitor. It was a fair compromise to me because it meant I could sit on the ball and not be lying prone on my side with my leg going asleep.
Things started to ramp pretty quickly at this point. My contractions started out around 4 1/2 minutes apart for only about 40-50 seconds and they were manageable. I asked Cameron to put on my Mumford and Sons playlist and for almost a full hour (I think) I sang my way through contractions and we kept time and it was finally exciting! Something was happening!
I lost track of time after a while, especially because at 2:00, daylight savings time ended and we went back an hour! I remember watching my mom turn back the clock on the wall (and I remember her telling the nurse so that we didn’t accidentally time the birth on the wrong hour) So we were back at 1:00, and at this point things started to get really hard. I couldn’t sing through the contractions anymore, but I do recall quite vividly trying to listen to the banjo licks and concentrate on those. Cameron was incredibly supportive, he sat on the stool behind me the whole time and rubbed my head during each contraction and occasionally suggested a different position. We tried a few different things, but I felt the most comfortable sitting on the ball and leaning on the side of the bed. I think at some point my mom asked if there was something I could throw up in in case I started feeling nauseous, and the nurse put a sick bag on the bed right in front of me, which was stupid because then all I could think was “I hope I don’t throw up, I hope I don’t throw up” which was not helpful to concentrating through my contractions. (I’m pretty phobic about vomiting and I really worried more about that than pooping myself during delivery.) Unfortunately I had kind of lost the ability for most speech at this point and I couldn’t vocalize that I wanted someone to move that stupid sick bag. Contractions seemed to be coming right on top of each other now and sometimes never seemed to end at all–just tapered a little–before another one began.
And then I hit that point. I don’t know if it was the beginning of transition or what, but I definitely hit that wall where I was seriously doubting my ability to get through it without meds. They were coming so hard that all I could do was lean on Cameron and say “ow ow ow” and think about how stupid I was for planning to do this without drugs. What the fuck was I thinking? This was WAY too hard. Fuck this, man. The nurse came in and asked if I was a tub person (Cameron thought she asked if I was a tough person) and said if I wanted, I could get into the bath. Cameron asked if that’s what I wanted (I think he asked me about 5 times because every time he asked, a contraction hit and I couldn’t respond) and at some point I said yes and the nurse went to run it. This was also around the time I started saying out loud that I couldn’t do it, that I needed something to help get me through. The nurse immediately picked up on that and said that if I wanted the epidural I could have it at any time, and Cameron told her I really didn’t want it, that we would try out the tub first but could she check me to see where my dilation was so that we could make a plan. She said she was going to check me in a half an hour (which would have been the time I would have gotten a third dose of Cytotec), but she could check it now, except that she didn’t like doing it because it could lead to infection. My mom said, if you’re going to check in a half an hour why can’t you just check now? So she checked me and I was 6cm and 70% effaced. Which is good because if I had still been at 3 or 4cm I have a feeling I would have given in. But Cameron got super excited about this and urged me into the tub even though I had to stop on my way there (a whole 15 feet away) to have a terrible contraction.
Getting into the water seemed to help, but I think what it really helped was to put me through transition. I didn’t feel like the water necessarily calmed or soothed me, but it did seem to give me a break between contractions. Still, that being said, I was still sitting on my knees leaning on the wall rail in absolute agony and I’m pretty sure it was at this point that I said (for the first time out of many) that I wanted to die. My mom was right there at the tub with me and Cameron was in the room telling the nurse not to suggest an epidural to me again. While they were gone, I had that first serious urge to push. And I mean serious. When I said so to my mom, she said, “What do you mean? You can’t push here. You don’t have to push.” Except that I did, and I had another contraction and could-not-help-it, which cued my mother to yell for Cameron and the nurse that I was trying to push.
Have I mentioned the doctor wasn’t even in the hospital at this point?
When the nurse heard that I was having urges to push, she did the #1 thing that annoys the everloving shit out of me when I read birth stories: “Oh, no, she can’t be feeling urges to push.” Because god forbid a woman, even a first-time mother, actually have some intuition about what she’s feeling. And I mean seriously, it’s not like I was making it up. I was leaning back on all fours and bearing down, unable to stop myself. I had to push and I had to do it right then. Now, granted, we had just done an internal check less than 10 minutes before and I was only at 6cm, but obviously something was happening. I had another contraction and felt like I had to push through it, and I remember my mom frantically going “Don’t push! Don’t push!” and me yelling my head off and finally the nurse came into the bathroom and went “Oh, wow. Yeah, we should check her again.” Ya think??
So they pulled me out of the tub, dried me off a little and threw me back in the bed where the nurse found out, wonder of wonders, that I was 9cm dilated and 100% effaced, and the head was in the canal. Gee! No wonder I was having urges to push! (Sorry…soap box over.)
The problem with having urges to push at this point was that there was no delivering doctor in the hospital. He only lives a few minutes away, but it was close to 2:30 in the morning and I have no doubts he was fast asleep. I know I would have loved to have been fast asleep.
I spent the next 10 minutes or so lying on my side curled against the bed rail screaming my way through contractions that actually, for the first time in a long while, were breaking in between. Cameron told me later it looked like I had reached this “zen moment” and that he thought I was actually falling asleep in between them. It was SO nice to actually get a break even if it was for a minute or two at a time. The contractions themselves, though, were really difficult if only because each one made my body try to push and I was begging them to let me push because the urge was so strong. I kept saying, “I want to push, please, I really want to push” (when I wasn’t saying that I wanted to die) and I could hear someone (the nurse probably, I had my eyes closed the entire time) saying “you can’t push yet, you have to wait.” Cameron was literally holding my legs together to keep me from doing it. He took over at that point and told me to redirect the contraction to my mouth and started breathing with me, which helped until the very end when I started to unintentionally hyperventilate because the redirection of energy was so difficult.
When Dr. K finally (10 minutes is a long time when you’re in that much pain) came into the room, he very calmly sat on the end of my bed, did an internal check and found that I was complete, and told me that on my next contraction I could start to push.
Here’s where things get super hazy. Considering I had gone through transition and went from 6cm to 10cm in under 20 minutes, I was pretty exhausted and mentally unstable because I never really had a chance to evaluate what was going on and process the whole thing. It was just like, labor start. Labor suck. Labor REALLY suck. Bam, pushing. Wait, what? Where was my average 12-14 hour labor? Anyway, I started pushing and I only really remember up to the point of the ring of fire when I totally freaked out and started saying I was scared and that I couldn’t do it. Everything gets super blurry at this point but apparently right before one push I told the doctor that I “wanted to fucking die” and he told me “No, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to die.” I only remember a lot of voices and a lot of screaming and at one point telling everyone I was sorry (seriously why do I do that? My first memory coming out of anesthesia when I had my tonsils out was telling the nurse I was sorry for coughing when she took my oxygen tube out), presumably for all the insane noise because I was actually feeling embarrassed by the noises that were coming out of me. Hormones, who knows.
I wish I could remember the exact moment when her head came out, but I do remember looking down and seeing it and asking if she was out only to be told that it was just the head. I only had one or two more pushes and suddenly, there she was. I had only been in real, active labor for about 5 hours and pushed for about 15 minutes. The instantaneous relief was overwhelming. The doctor wasn’t able to put her on my chest immediately because her cord was wrapped around her neck four times–yes four–and had a true knot in it below. Once he had unwrapped her, they put her on my chest and started sucking out her mouth. She cried a little, but not like I was expecting, and I asked if she was okay, and the doctor told me she was. I also asked if she was still a girl. (After all, we’d only had an 80% certainty of that on the ultrasound) She didn’t have a lot of vernix, and she was purple, and god was she tiny. But she was perfect.
I looked up at Cameron at some point to find him weeping and trembling. I said, “please don’t pass out.” He said the moment was something he had never expected, and he had that sensation like when you hit your funny bone, all over his body. The doctor fixed up her umbilical cord to be cut–it didn’t occur to me at the time but I had expected them to wait longer for the cord to stop pulsing, but because of the knots and how many times it was wrapped around her neck, there was nothing in it left to pulse out. When I was more coherent later, this fact scared the shit out of me. No wonder she had come so early and was born so small. She was running out of nutrients from the cord. Later, the doctor told us that if she had gone to her due date, we would have ended up having a cesarian in the best case scenario–the worst case scenario would have been her not making it. It’s a fact that still, a few days later, gives me a feeling of ice water falling straight down into my stomach. I suspect it will for the rest of my life.
After our golden hour, our Caroline got all her measurements and came in at 5lbs3oz, 19 inches long, and born at 2:59 on Sunday, November 3rd. We ended up staying an extra day at the hospital because she lost 9% of her birth weight over the first night (mostly due to her being so small that she had almost none of that brown fat that babies burn through first) and she was slightly jaundiced, but we took her home on Tuesday morning. Because of her size we had to supplement her with formula for about 48 hours, but now that my milk is in and she is feeding like a champ, we are hoping for a positive weight gain (or at least a stabilization) at her first pediatrician appointment tomorrow.
So far she has been amazing. She cries rarely and calms easily, sleeps for pretty long stretches, breastfeeds well, and loves to snuggle with her mommy and daddy. Of course we have our moments, and I’ve had several overwhelming overloads and breakdowns, frustrations with painful engorgement, and general postpartum hormones, but things are smooth sailing for the most part. My mom wasn’t able to stay with us for the first week as we had originally planned, but she is coming up on weekends for now just to lend a hand which is super helpful especially because she can bring us stuff we can’t get up here that we don’t have time to get down the valley. (For example–preemie size diapers. The Safeway here didn’t have a single package in that size and the only ones we had were size 1 newborn and were so big on her they didn’t keep any poo inside. Luckily we called the hospital and they were nice enough to give us a few packages in the meantime.) It’s still a process adapting to this new life we have, but whenever I get frustrated, I look down at her and feel so much love for her that I think I might explode. It’s true, what that quote says, about having a child meaning that you are allowing your heart to go walking on the outside of your body. I’m pretty sure I’d never ask for it to be any other way.