Saturday, October 24, 2020

Happy Birth Day


I like to think the baby heard all the discussion about induction and decided to get labor moving on her own.

And just like that, there we were, four days past my due date, water broken, contractions coming strong, checking into the bougie hospital. My husband and I were escorted to the maternal assessment area (that drab, claustrophobic, and windowless room) on the labor and delivery floor, where I changed into a gown.

A fetal monitor showed my contractions were coming every two minutes and an internal exam revealed that I was 2 1/2 to 3 centimeters dilated. That didn’t sound like much to me. My heart sunk. I thought I was going to get sent home. But then the nurse said, “You're not going anywhere." 

Soon, I started to believe her. The longer I was confined to the bed, the more painful the contractions became. I really wanted to get up and move around and be in the water.

“You're handling these so much better than I could,” the nurse said, studying the fetal monitor readout. “You're so calm.”

I thought, “I'm Norwegian. We don't show anyone our pain.”

Just as I was starting to wonder if I'd made a mistake in choosing the hospital over the birth center, I was transferred to a big delivery suite with natural light – but no birthing tub. At that point, I didn't care. I just wanted water, from any source.

“What is your pain management strategy?” my labor and delivery nurse asked.

“I want to try to do this naturally, but I want you to warn me when my last chance for an epidural is,” I said.

“Have you had an epidural before?”

“No.” 

She said if I wasn’t sure about the epidural, there was an acronym-ed injection (I can’t remember the name of it now) that could be administered at 7 centimeters and that lasted about 90 minutes. That sounded good in theory, but I wasn't sure I was going to make it to 7 centimeters without pain relief.

As soon as I got the OK, I headed to the shower, where I stripped and sat on a plastic bench. My husband held the shower head on my lower back and when the contractions came, I wrapped my arms around his waist and squeezed as hard as I could until the pain subsided. That worked for a while, but eventually I got tired of sitting down. I tried standing up, and when the contractions came, I gripped the handrails and pulled back like I was trying to pull the shower wall down. My moans echoed against the tiles. After an hour of this, the steam in the bathroom was so thick I could barely see my husband. I soon became overheated and woozy, so he flapped air at me with a towel, like palm fronds on Cleopatra.

The nurse stopped in once with a Doppler to check the baby’s heart rate. Since the baby was doing fine, I was given the green light to continue in the shower. But after around 90 minutes of pelvis-shattering contractions and too-brief periods of relief, I said, “I don't know how much longer I can do this.”

The next time the nurse returned, I asked to get checked. I was only 4 centimeters. Not even halfway! The nurse said I couldn't have the acronym-ed drug yet.

“What about the epidural?” I asked.

“Four to 5 centimeters is the ideal time to do that.”

“Let’s do it.”

I guess I surprised her and my husband, too, because both of them looked at me, like, “Are you sure?”

“I'm tired,” I said. (As if I had to justify asking for pain relief in labor!)

“That’s a perfectly good reason to get an epidural,” the nurse responded. She paged the anesthesiologist and inserted an IV line.

Realizing that I was about to do the one thing I swore I wouldn’t do during birth, I started crying. I felt a little disappointed in myself. Was I underestimating my own strength?

But by the time the anesthesiologist arrived, the contractions were so intense I felt like I was being tortured on the rack. With each one, I shook uncontrollably, as if I were having a seizure. I didn’t remember that being part of labor, but the nurses said it wasn't abnormal. My moans grew louder.

“Breathe through it!” the nurse said, which was annoying because I was breathing, just with sound.

I was told to sit on the edge of the bed and grip a pillow. The anesthesiologist cleaned my back, put what felt like a plastic shield over me, then numbed the area. I felt a sharp poke but it was nothing compared to the contractions. The epidural went in. About 10 minutes later, I felt the intensity of the contractions fade. Within 20 minutes, I couldn't feel anything at all.

It. Was. Heaven.

“Why are women so anti-epidural?” I asked aloud. “This is the best thing ever!”

Why did I force myself to suffer through unmedicated birth before when I could have been blissed out, eating grape popsicles, and texting my family updates? If I could have an epidural like this every time, I would birth 100 babies.

An hour or two later (time flies when you’re on drugs), I was at 8 centimeters. A nurse gave me "the peanut," a birth ball-like contraption that I put between my legs while lying on the side. The peanut helped me get almost to 10, but the nurse said I still had “a little cervix left on one side,” so I switched sides and within an hour I felt a strong urge to push. I was pleasantly surprised that I could still feel my body’s signals even though I was otherwise numb.

I had been told a doctor I’d never met from Dr. Baby-Maker’s clinic was on call and going to deliver me, but at the last minute, that doctor got stuck at another birth, so Dr. Baby-Maker was called in. I had never been so happy to see her smiling face before. She was as enthusiastic as ever, despite it being 10 p.m. and long after her regular workday should have ended.

Dr. Baby-Maker and the nurses got me into position: on my back, legs in stirrups parallel to the bed (which, I’ll admit, seemed counterproductive to pushing, but whatever). Apparently, I still had some “forebag” left, which Dr. Baby-Maker ruptured with a long hook. Then it was time to push. When I felt a contraction coming, I alerted everyone, then had to hold my breath and push down and out while pulling my legs back toward my head (a lot harder than it sounds). I couldn’t tell if I was being effective or not.

In between pushes, everyone was small-talking like this wasn’t the biggest event of my life in a long time. Dr. Baby-Maker asked about the marathon tattoos on my ankles. Then my husband started talking about his job. It was so surreal. I kept thinking, “Hello! I’m having a baby here!”

Finally, Dr. Baby-Maker and the nurses gave me some feedback: “That was the best push so far!” or “Every time you push, the baby’s head comes down further!” or “I can see hair!”

After 20 minutes of pushing, I felt that all-too-familiar “ring of fire” sensation...but without the fire. It was pressure, in a very localized, circular form. One more push and relief washed over me. The baby’s head was out. Another push and her body slipped out, too. I breathed in big gulps.

Dr. Baby-Maker put the baby right on my chest. I started crying and my husband followed suit. As soon as we talked to her, she lifted her head. Her huge blue eyes were open and she was very alert. She had a defined chin, a cute piggy nose, and lots of feather-soft brown hair.

It was love at first sight.

All the waiting? Worth it. The pain? Worth it. The money? Worth it.

Worth it. Worth it. Worth it. Our baby was here and she was perfect.

“Do you want to see the placenta?” Dr. Baby-Maker asked. I hadn’t even felt it come out.

“No,” I said. I only had eyes for my baby.

Dr. Baby-Maker told me I had a second-degree tear; she repaired it while my husband and I just gazed and gazed at the baby. Thanks again to the epidural, I felt no pain. When she was done, she prepared to leave.

“You did so well,“ she said. “I can’t wait to hear how much the baby weighs!”

We waited until the golden hour was over before weighing and measuring the baby. She was 8 pounds, 12 ounces (my biggest baby so far) and 22 inches long (very long by any baby’s standards).

While the birth wasn’t “natural” by midwifery standards, there was nothing unnatural about it to me. I was surrounded by supportive, professional women, from Dr. Baby-Maker to the nurses to the anesthesiologist. I felt respected and empowered throughout the birth. And because of the epidural, and subsequent pain relief, I was able to be fully present during that glorious golden hour in a way I wasn’t with my previous daughters. I didn’t even feel the need to take any photos (which I kind of regret now); I was just there, fully and completely in the moment. And what a glorious moment it was! Among the best of my life.

Of course, I couldn’t stay on cloud nine indefinitely. The crash was coming, and it was killer…

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