I wrote the following piece mostly for my own memory, but enough people have shown interest to warrant the blog post. Be warned, this may very well be T.M.I. for some people.
It was a Friday afternoon, and the first day of my maternity leave from work. I got up late (comparatively speaking) and enjoyed a leisurely morning at home with M. I was feeling a bit hot and uncomfortable by then, but at nearly 38 weeks into my pregnancy, that was to be expected. By 11am, M had gone off to work, and I took myself down to the local mall to get a haircut. I arrived a little early, so I browsed around the shops for a little while buying a tiny blue onesie with an embroidered flower. Haircut time came around, so I went over to the salon and made polite conversation with the staff while they did my hair. When they asked my due date, I said airily "Oh it could be any time now." Little did I realize.
After finishing up at the salon, I went over to have lunch with M at his office. We grabbed something quick, joked about the horrors of cafeteria lunches, and then still had time to take a stroll through the botanical garden on our way to the doctor's office. The spring flowers were out in full force, and the air was filled with the scent of daffodils.
We arrived at our appointment in plenty of time. We've seen so much of that place in the last several months that there was nothing anxious about being there. M and I thought we'd have the usual check up and be on our way. We were shown into the exam room, had to wait an unbelievably long time for the bathroom, and did all the regular heartbeat, blood pressure, tummy measure events. The doctor was not our regular one, but one of the partners, and she wanted to tell us all about her 6th grade son's middle school career. At some point, she stopped talking about him long enough to look a little concerned.
It seems that the baby's heart rate was a little higher than normal, and that I did not measure a big in the belly as I should by that stage of pregnancy. A quick ultra-sound revealed less amniotic fluid than normal (5 out of ?), and the doctor said we might need to go to the hospital for a stress test. She left the room, and we could hear her make several phone calls. By the third or fourth person, it was clear that we were being sent to the hospital for more than just a test.
The doctor came back into the room, reviewed the signs of trouble, and told us that since the baby was so far along it was better just to deliver her. This would avoid any risk of her being "in distress" from the low fluid levels. We didn't really know what to say. For some reason, even though it was late in my pregnancy, I was still not prepared for this news. I had always imagined being awakened by contractions and then heading off to the hospital. Nevertheless, in a few minutes I had started to get excited about the prospect of meeting our baby face to face.
We made the very short trip from the doctor's office to the hospital, and found our way up the maternity ward on the 6th floor. There is something very weird about being completely clear-headed (no labor pains) as you travel to the hospital and check in. There is nothing to distract you from imagining what is about to begin. I could hardly sit still as we waited. M was busy making phone calls and sending emails to cancel our other plans and let people know what was happening. I wanted to pace and chatter and do anything else with my excitement, but I made myself sit still and wait.
It really wasn't very long before a nurse took us back into our room. As I saw the number plate outside the door I thought "Oh yes, #606 is going to be very important to us." It was just a hospital room with bed, rocking chair, monitors, a wall full of closets and compartments, and a tiny bathroom, but it was a place we got to know really, really well. The nurse showed us around, and then asked me to head into the bathroom to change from regular clothes into a hospital gown. I took off my gigantic pair of full-panel pregnancy jeans for the last time.
Settled into bed, they strapped a fetal heart-rate monitor and a contraction monitor to my belly. I found this process to be reassuring because I could listen to the baby's heart as I lay in bed and know that she was still okay. Depending on which way I was turned, I could see the actual rate. When I was turned on my side away from the machine, I asked M and my mom to tell me the rate about once every two minutes. The sound of that monitor was the background music for the next 14 hours.
The IV was the next part of my "kit" to be introduced, and with that came my first contact with pain. I've never had any trouble with needles, but the sickening stick and jab of this process was more than I'd expected. The IV remained in my arm for the next 36 hours, and it never did become comfortable. However, it was through the IV that I got my first dose of pitocin (a synthetic version of oxytocin) at about 5:30pm.
They started with a very tiny quantity of pitocin with the plan to increase the dose every hour. However, that small amount was enough for me to begin feeling contractions almost immediately. After 15 or 20 minutes, I have having regular tingling sensations in my abdomen, and in another hour, it was full on, but not yet painful, contractions. The rocking chair was my friend for this next phase as it seemed to ease the discomfort. I actually able to visit with my mom and M, and we spent some time watching Elton John be interviewed on Oprah.
Eventually, after a few hours of mild contractions, things began to get serious. I was getting very uncomfortable to the point that I kept trying to stand, sit, walk, or sit on the big rubber ball just to try and get some relief. One of the few things that gave any relief was to have M rub my back where much of the pain was concentrated. I even tried to sit in the bath for a while, but the discomfort was turning into something very tough to manage. I finally let the nurse know that I would like an epidural.
I've always assumed I would have some pain relief when I had a baby, but I wanted to go as far as I could just in case it helped the process to move more quickly. Once I asked for the epidural, I found the anesthesiologist couldn't come fast enough. Labor pain is quite difficult to describe, but the best I can do is to say that it's like having someone grab your one-piece bathing suit from behind and stretch and stretch until those bits of you are cramping in agony. Other people say it's like the worst leg cramps you could ever imagine. Either way, it isn't pretty. When Dr. F. came through that door, I was VERY happy to see him.
The epidural, like the IV, surprised me because I thought I was tough. I know what is involved in the procedure, and I didn't think it would bother me much. However, it is such a strange and occasionally painful set of feelings that it made me whimper more than once. Soon the process was over, and I was starting to feel some relief. Within several minutes my legs were feeling tingly and the pain of contractions was slipping away from me. Within half an hour I remember thinking how I warm and comfortable all over like a cat relaxing in the sun. I think that dopey feeling comes from your brain's own natural pain blockers suddenly having nothing to do. It was entirely fantastic. I kept telling M how good I was suddenly feeling.
Once the pain was gone, all we had to do was wait for my body to progress. I actually slept for a while with the only disturbance being the entrances and exits of the nurses. One nurse, in particular, stands out because she was so gruff and stern. She was a stand-in for my regular nurse, and she came into the room and started ordering everyone around. M was to turn me, I was to hold just so, and she arranged my limbs without any coaxing. Still, she was the one who said we would have a baby by 7am.
After a few hours of sleep, the nurse came again to check my progress. She said I was 10cm and fully effaced, so it was time to get down to pushing. Now I must say that by this point, I was in no pain at all. The nurse's exam didn't hurt (unlike the first exam which REALLY hurt), the contractions didn't hurt, but that doesn't mean the next bit was easy. I've heard those nice stories from some women about how they gave three really good pushes and the baby just popped right out. That's so great for them, but it did not happen that way for me.
Pushing, chin to chest, was absolutely the hardest physical labor I've ever endured. If it hadn't been for M holding on knee, and my mom holding the other, I don't know what I would have done. You take a deep breath, push with every ounce of strength for ten seconds, repeat for a total of three per contraction. Sometimes you get a minute to rest in between contractions, and other times they arrive one on top of the other. This whole business kept up FOR NEARLY THREE HOURS. When I said I was tired, the nurse said "that's why this is called labor not vacation." I kept pushing.
Finally, the doctor arrived, and we were ready for the last stretch (har!). The top of the baby's head was in view, and it was motivation to keep up the pushing efforts. However, the doctor had some concerns about the size of the baby's head versus the size of me. Quick as a flash, I had an episiotomy that caused me no pain whatsoever. That was all our little daughter needed. With just one more big push, she was born in a tangle of limbs and surprisingly little blood. They wiped her face, and laid her on my chest. The feeling was indescribable, and something I don't ever want to forget.
The next parts are mercifully vague to me. The doctor did things, the nurses took the baby to weigh and examine, and I just lay there waiting until they would bring the baby back. Once she was on my chest again, and M was at our side, I was feeling like all was right with the world. It is impossible (for me anyway) to talk about childbirth without becoming one great big cliché. Go to the thesaurus, look up "awesome" or "profound" or "incredible" and you would end up with a nice list to describe the whole thing. Yes, yes, I know it's probably just the hormones talking, but that I how I feel today, one week later.
What makes all the effort so worthwhile is our beautiful, perfect little daughter. She was 7lbs, 5ozs, and 20in long. There are lashings of M, me, and other family members about her, but mostly she just looks like herself. It seems like a face I've known forever, and I could, and have stared at her for hours on end. We are totally and completely in love. Now all we have left to do is grow up together.