mwmacglashan: Marin's Long Delivery
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 11:18 AM
"She was brand new to this world. Everything around her was alien, and, yet, she knew me. I will never, ever forget that moment."
The not-so-calm before the storm
One week before I went into labor, I started having “gas pains” while I was at work. For hours I kept going to the bathroom and thinking, “Geez, what did I eat?” At times, I had to leave my desk so I could sit in the bathroom, doubled over in pain. As my work day neared its end, I had a sudden and startling revelation “could these be contractions?” To this day, I am amazed that I didn’t come to that conclusion sooner. I knew I could go into labor at any time. I was only 3 days short of my due date, and for days I had been feeling my baby’s head drilling down on my pelvic bone like a battering ram. But I had never been in labor before, so how was I supposed to know that some women’s first contractions feel like a Chipotle dinner gone horribly wrong?
The longest week of my life
After feeling intense contractions all day that day, I went home from work excited and hopeful that this might be it! Before leaving my desk I sent some final emails and tidied things up, truly believing there was no way I would be at work on Monday (which was my due date). But Monday arrived, and, forlorn and frustrated, I trundled off to work to face another exhausting day of puffy feet and “gas pains.” That Tuesday evening, I had my 40-week doctor appointment. I asked my doctor to do a physical exam to check my progress. The exam was extremely painful, and she seemed to be taking an extra long time down there. She said the baby was so low that her head was in the way, so it was hard for her to feel my cervix. She believed I was 1 centimeter dilated and predicted that labor would move quickly for me because the baby had already dropped so far down—a prediction that couldn’t have been more wrong!
Wednesday and Thursday passed with no real progress. My contractions came and went, sometimes waking me up in the middle of the night to clutch my belly in pain. They were an undeniable reminder that the time was near. Still, they felt like a tease. At this stage of pregnancy, a single day felt like an eternity, as my husband and I waited not-so-patiently for the day our lives would be changed forever. Every time I felt the slightest pain I thought, “could this be it?” “Will this contraction be different--the one that puts into motion that amazingly frightening and thrilling series of events that leads to the birth of a new life, my daughter’s new life?”
On Friday morning, I woke to get ready for work, in complete disbelief that I had endured yet another entire work week and still no kid. I went to the bathroom and found blood on the inside of my nightgown. A woman has never been so thrilled to see blood than I was at that moment. It was the infamous bloody show! The thing of legends, and it was finally here before me! I bounded out of the bathroom, beaming, to tell my husband and mom (who had flown out to stay with us the weekend before) of my discovery. Everyone cheered. I went to work with renewed energy. It had to be any time now! Trying to concentrate on work that day was near impossible. I had contractions on and off all day, but nothing consistent. Some of the contractions got so bad that I decided that if they kept up I would have to go home. That day I was one of the last people to leave my office. My husband and mom came to pick me up and chastised me for being such a dedicated worker, when I was so clearly on the verge of going into full-blown labor. But I just wanted to end things the right way, since I knew I wouldn’t be back to work for months (and this time I KNEW for sure).
I went home and settled onto the couch to watch TV with my mom, while my husband fixed dinner. I kept feeling like my baby was arching her back and pushing outward on my belly. I kept saying, “Woah baby, what are you doing in there?” My mom put her hand on my belly and said, “honey, that’s not the baby; that ‘tight’ feeling is a contraction.” I was not convinced. This felt different than my “gas pain” contractions. But she insisted. We busted out the kitchen timer and started keeping track of how much time passed between each time I felt the “baby pushing.” Sure enough, my mom was right. On average, my contractions were 5 minutes apart, coming regularly and lasting between 45 seconds and 1 minute long. But so far, the pain was only minor. I ate dinner and watched TV (timing, timing, timing) and eventually took myself to bed, sure that I needed to get as much sleep as possible, since it would be awhile before I would sleep again.
I was exhausted from my work week and managed to drift off for about 2 hours. I woke at around 1 a.m., when my contractions had intensified enough that I could no longer sleep. For the rest of the night, I stayed awake, munching on applesauce, taking an endless number of trips to the bathroom, and watching House Hunters on HGTV, until the programming switched over to infomercials. As the hours wore on, the pain grew progressively worse and worse. I could no longer talk through my contractions. They were consistently coming about 4 minutes apart now and lasting one full minute. Sometime after 5:00 in the morning (roughly 12 hours into labor), I called my doctor to tell her it wouldn’t be long before I left for the hospital.
And miles to go before I sleep…
When I arrived at the hospital around 7:30 in the morning, I was directed to triage where a doctor checked to see how far I was dilated. The news was devastating: 1 centimeter. I had been 1 centimeter dilated at my last doctors appointment 4 days earlier. All that work my body was doing all night long had resulted in no tangible progress. I was told that they couldn’t admit me yet because I hadn’t progressed far enough. I could either go home and come back later, or walk the halls like an aimless wanderer for a couple of hours, and then get checked again. I opted for the latter option (there was no way on earth I was going back home without a baby in my arms). So I walked … and I walked …and I walked. And then I walked down to the cafeteria and ate. I ate the hugest breakfast imaginable, topped off with cherry pie. Every time a contraction came I grabbed my husband and buried my head into his chest, breathing and squinting my eyes shut in pain. And then just when I thought I couldn’t walk another step it was almost 11:00 a.m. and time to get checked again. Halleluiah! I was 3 centimeters and 60 percent effaced, and far enough along to be admitted and get myself a luxurious birthing suite (luxurious because it wasn’t the hallway).
For the rest of the morning and all afternoon on Saturday I labored. The contractions were getting very painful. I tried sitting on the big rubber ball. That helped … until a contraction came. Some contractions would come and then just when I thought they were falling off they would intensify again and again, so I was getting three contractions in a row with no break in between. Some time late in the afternoon my doctor checked my cervix to see how I was progressing. Again, shattering news. I was only 4 centimeters. All that pain for one more measly centimeter! My doctor said that because my labor seemed to be progressing so slowly (it had been 20+ hours since the start) she could administer pitocin to help me along. I turned her down, knowing full well that pitocin would make my contractions MORE intense. I already felt like falling apart every time a contraction came, and I still had transition to look forward to. So instead I opted to try the tub. The tub did NOT help. I kept slipping around in it like a harp seal (a pregnant harp seal).
I was exhausted. Having been in un-medicated labor for close to 24 hours now, I began to think that, since I still had so far to go and I was so tired, maybe I would get an epidural. All along my birth plan had been to try to have the baby without any medication. But I had watched the show, "A Baby Story," far too many times to feel confident that I could pre-determine my fate that way. Throughout my pregnancy I told myself that I would do my best, but that ultimately I would do what was right for me at the time and not feel guilty about it. Yet, still, there was this part of me that believed I could do it all without medication. I wanted to do it that way. So when the thought entered my mind that maybe this was as much as I could do without an epidural, my heart sank. I tried a little while longer (in that darned tub) and then decided to talk to my doctor. I told her that instead of getting pitocin to speed things up, I just wanted to get an epidural so I could relax and let my body do this thing the way it seemed to want to … very SLOWLY.
An end to the pain
Once I made the difficult decision to get the epidural, the anesthesiologist couldn’t get there quickly enough. Through each contraction I kept telling myself the end was near. A nurse came in to put in an IV, which you need when you get an epidural so they can administer you continuous fluids. After everything I had been through in the last 24 hours--the last 9 ½ months, for that matter--you would think that one more needle stick would seem like a minor assault, but the mere thought of it was striking fear in my heart. I couldn’t handle anything else!
The nurse tried once to insert the IV needle and missed my vein. I whimpered. She apologized, waited for my next contraction to pass, and tried again in another vein. It felt like she was digging my vein out with the head of the needle. I yelled out in pain and made the mistake of looking down at what she was doing. Blood was literally pulsing from the hole she had just made in my hand. I tried to hold myself together, gripping my husband’s hand with my unwounded paw and crying. “I am so sorry,” the nurse said, “I must be having an ‘off’ day.” She told me she was going to go get someone else to try a third time. Minutes later, a new nurse appeared and smoothly (though not painlessly) inserted the IV in my other hand.
It felt like hours before the anesthesiologist arrived. I was a bit frightened to have a needle inserted in my spine, especially after the recent event with the IV, but this was the moment I had been waiting for. Getting an epidural is difficult when you are in a lot of pain because you have to sit perfectly still while they insert the needle. For me, the procedure itself was also somewhat painful. The needle felt like a bee sting. And after everything that had happened, this made me cry out like a 5 year old getting a flu shot, “Ow, it hurts!” But then, suddenly, warmth washed over me. The nurse said, “You’re having a contraction right now. Do you feel it?” I did not. And it was blissful.
And the evening wore on…
At 8:15 that night my doctor came in to check my progress. I was 7 centimeters, 100 percent effaced and at a 0 station. I was getting there, and because I couldn’t feel a thing, I no longer cared that it was taking so darn long. At this point, my water had amazingly still not broken. My doctor suggested that if she broke it the final 3 centimeters of dilation may happen more quickly. And so she did, or at least tried. That darn bag just would not break, and she had to go in two separate times to break it sufficiently. When it was finally broken I felt a sudden and unexpected sadness. That wonderful protective home that had kept my baby safe for so many months was broken--never to be put back together again. It was my first experience having to let go. She was no longer mine alone to cradle and keep safe. There was no going back now. She would soon be a part of the world.
After my water was broken I decided that I would try to sleep a little while to get ready for the big “push.”
At around 11:30-ish I woke up, uncomfortable from lying on my one side for so long (you can’t lie on your back when you have an epidural). A nurse came in to help reposition me since I couldn’t feel my body well enough to do it myself. As I was shifting, I started feeling this pressure down low, like I had to make an emergency trip to the bathroom. It was the first sensation I had felt down there in about 6 or 7 hours. The nurse said it may mean I was fully dilated and it was time to push. She brought my doctor back in and after a quick exam I received the glorious news: 10 centimeters!!! I had finally made it! I could push.
So close, yet so far!
And so I pushed. I pushed and I pushed. I pushed for more than 3 hours. I was blissfully unaware of the time passing by, or of the fact that I should have had my baby by then. I could not fathom that anything could be wrong. This was just taking awhile, like everything else about this childbirth. My doctor had left a couple hours earlier to take a short nap and told the nurses to come get her when things got going. Pushing was, by far, so much more invigorating than any other part of labor. I actually felt like I was an active participant in my labor, instead of just along for the ride. Eventually, the nurse asked if I would like to see my baby’s head. I said yes and they brought out a small mirror. It was amazing. I could see the top of her beautiful little head, and she had hair—loads of dark brown hair! I had more energy than ever before and pushed with renewed vigor.
But eventually the nurses switched shifts, and my new nurse, after only a few contractions worth of pushing, started to look a little worried. She checked the contraction monitor and finally went to get my doctor. When my doctor arrived in the room she looked irritated that someone had not woken her sooner. She watched me push a couple times and checked my contractions on the monitor. And then, all of a sudden, after roughly 33 hours of contractions, my body just stopped—everything stopped. There were no more contractions. Twenty minutes went by and nothing. It was as if my body was just too tired and couldn’t go on. So they gave me some pitocin to get things going again, but the revived contractions were pitiful and weak, not nearly strong enough to push out a baby.
My doctor said she could try the vacuum or forceps, but both of these options worried me. I didn’t like the idea of sucking or yanking my baby out by her precious little hairy head. My doctor sent for an OB consult. The OB arrived minutes later and took a look and a feel down there and said that the baby was posterior, meaning the back of her head was closest to my spine. This makes it much more difficult to push the baby out. That, combined with my weakened contractions, meant that it was unlikely I could push the baby out vaginally. She also noticed meconium around my daughter’s head. This is very dangerous for the baby. It is never good to marinate in one’s own feces. My daughter needed to get out of there, and quick.
The OB looked at me and said that she felt the only option at that point was an emergency c-section. That was it. I lost it. I had prepared myself for many things, but other than something happening to my baby, the thing I feared most was having a c-section. A c-section was major surgery. Not to mention, I had just spent 34 hours in labor, including 3-plus hours of pushing, only to have the baby surgically removed from my belly. I cried …no, I sobbed. And the OB told me that for the health of my baby and me, they needed to do this. So I said, “Okay.”
A new life
In what felt like only moments after I gave my consent to having a c-section, the room was filled with people, nurses of various sorts bustling about preparing me for surgery. My husband was decked out in what looked like a hazmat uniform, complete with little booties. I was whisked away down the hall, a team of people in tow. I cried.
The surgical room was overwhelmingly bright. My anesthesiologist from hours before returned to refresh my epidural. That man had already proven his worth to me, and it was good to see another familiar face. I was grateful that I didn’t have to go through the stress of getting an IV and epidural now, when I had all but fallen to pieces. Nurses hoisted my limp body onto the surgical table.
In all the time I had spent watching, "A Baby Story," I had never noticed that women getting c-sections have to have their arms straight out to their sides for the entire procedure. It’s like you’re being crucified. I was terrified and shaking uncontrollably, and all I wanted to do was curl my arms into my body. I struggled to hold them out to my sides as I was told. My husband came in and sat beside me, and my doctor was there too. I started feeling this pressure in my chest, and I tried to tell someone. A nurse standing behind me said it was nothing to worry about—something about air being pushed up into my rib cage from the opening in my belly (though he didn’t describe it quite so graphically). My husband tried to keep my mind off what was happening by talking to me about the experience of seeing my baby’s head while I was pushing.
We were told that when my baby was born, we would probably not hear her cry because they were going to suppress her breathing until they could suction her lungs to make sure she hadn’t aspirated any meconium. So when my husband and I suddenly heard a soft meowing sound, like a tiny kitten, we both looked at each other in amazement and surprise and said, “Is that her?”
At 4:32 on Sunday morning, they took my daughter away into a side room to finish all their procedures, weigh her, and take her measurements. They asked my husband if he wanted to come back and watch. He asked me if I wanted him to stay with me. I told him to go be with our daughter.
Some time later, my husband returned with our 5 lb. 15 oz. baby, Marin Grace, in his arms. He held her next to me so I could snuggle her face and talk to her. She stopped whimpering when she heard my voice, and every difficult moment of the last 35 hours melted away. We had created this amazing life, and she knew me. She was brand new to this world. Everything around her was alien, and, yet, she knew me. I will never, ever forget that moment.
As I write this, my daughter is 6 months old, and, when I think back on her arrival, it is easy to feel disappointed: disappointed in myself that I couldn’t get through labor without medication, disappointed that I couldn’t give birth the way I wanted to. But I continually remind myself that I did exactly what I needed to do at the time, and that the c-section saved my baby’s life and possibly my life as well. Not so long ago, and even today in many parts of the world, my birth story would not have ended so happily. And so I am forever thankful to the doctors who helped bring my baby into the world healthy and strong. Besides, Marin will never remember the day she was born, but she will know how much we love and treasure her, and in the end that is the only thing that matters.