Since week 32 of my pregnancy I had been ready to give birth. Maybe not quite mentally or emotionally ready (I mean, can you ever be?) but I was prepared in the most ‘type A’ sense of being prepared. I have had several friends who had babies that surprised them by arriving at around 34 or 35 weeks, so I considered it cheap insurance to be ready for anything. Our hospital suitcase was packed with clothes, our birth plan, and other items recommended for working through contractions. I had made lists of last minute things to do around the house, throw in the suitcase and prepare before we left for the hospital. We had compiled a list of people to contact, the phone number for labor and delivery was programmed into both of our phones, we had taken all the labor and newborn care classes that Kaiser has to offer and read and re-read the warning signs of labor over and over.
37 weeks and 1 day was my last day of work. I was officially full term and had 2 and a half weeks off ahead of me before my due date. I knew that she could come at any time, and I had heard a zillion “as soon as baby knew I was off work, he or she came right away…yada yada” stories. Not knowing whether I would have a few hours or a few weeks until her arrival, I tried to strategize my maternity leave accordingly. Every day I tried to maintain a balance of rest and productivity; I filled my days with cleaning, organizing, cooking, baking, socializing, napping and reading. I cleaned every crevice of my house multiple times, organized every closet and cabinet, finished the nursery, filled the freezer with delicious homemade soups and casseroles, and read everything about labor and babies that I could get my hands on. The first couple weeks off, I felt like the perfect housewife and quite the lady of leisure, but some days I felt energetic, social, positive, and some days were hard. Those days I barely left the couch and my greatest accomplishment was taking a shower. My body had started to feel the strain of a full term, full size baby and the anticipation of not knowing when or how I would go into labor was emotionally draining. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time, I was too big and uncomfortable and the weight of her head right on my bladder made me have to pee at least once an hour. I was incredibly swollen, which not only caused me not to be able to fit into any of my shoes properly but also caused carpel tunnel and sciatica. The baby pushing my stomach out of the way brought the most horrendous heartburn, no matter what I ate there would be constant acid rushing up my throat, and the compression of my lungs caused me to be short of breath after even the shortest jaunt. I had developed a permanent waddle, my speed was set to “saunter”, and my back and feet constantly ached. My mindset quickly changed from “lady of leisure” to “GET THIS KID OUT OF ME!”
I also started having weekly OB appointments to check on my progress. It became apparent that although I had taken all necessary steps to be prepared for labor, my fetus was not as prepared. I heard the same news at every appointment; I wasn’t dilating, I wasn’t effaced, she was still really high and I hadn’t been having any contractions, real or otherwise. At the 37, 38, 39 and 40 week appointments we got the same report, there were no physical signs that labor was near. Now this isn’t an exact science, even with no warning I still could have gone into labor at any moment- but the lack of physical signals or any kind of progress was discouraging to say the least. More so as the weeks went on and I grew more and more uncomfortable.
Week 40 arrived, and my due date came and went. I ran out of things to clean and organize, there was no more room in the freezer, and the hard days had started to outnumber the easy days. I had become inundated with messages via phone, text, email and Facebook from friends and family inquiring “WHERE’S THAT BABY?” or “BABY YET?” and offering suggestions of natural ways to induce labor, all of which we had heard or been trying since week 39. We went through the list of labor starting old wives tales, once, twice, three times…all of our efforts failed to produce a single contraction. Sol and I had also begun to strategize a “what happens if I go into labor today” game plan every time one of us left the house without the other one, confident that I would still go into labor naturally and we would experience the quintessential rush to the hospital that we had heard so much about and witnessed in every sitcom.
Week 40 and 4 days we had another OB appt. After another cervical check showed no progress, our doctor started talking seriously about induction. I had been anti-induction since the beginning, I knew that being induced was most likely a long and painful process that had a high chance of leading to c-section or other interventions. With all of the new found waiting time in the last week though, I had done a lot of research on post-term babies and knew that there were far more serious risks associated with letting the pregnancy continue past 41 weeks, including the risk of having placenta and miconium complications or more frightening, a still born. The doctor went over the risks and benefits of each scenario, and basically said (in much less blunt terms) a c-section is a c-section, but a dead baby is a dead baby. I became completely paranoid and obsessed with feeling her moving, reassuring me that she was still okay. Ultimately it was our decision to schedule the induction, but we had high hopes that we would still be able to coax baby out before that date came. We scheduled the induction for 41 weeks 1 day on Friday, April 1st.
We spent the rest of the week going over the list of labor triggering wives tales again, taking long walks and enjoying time together, knowing that at the very latest, by the weekend, our family of 2 would become 3. On Wednesday, at 40 weeks 6 days, we were convinced we were going to meet our daughter. I was awakened at 4:30 AM with very strong painful contractions. They were inconsistent, and fairly mild, but strong enough to wake me up and prevent me from being able to go back to sleep. I came downstairs and lay on the couch timing the contractions- they were 10, 12, 9 minutes apart. I knew that if this was the real deal I had to wait until they were between 3-5 minutes apart consistently to go to the hospital, but I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before they increased. Sol work up for work at 5:30 and came down to check on me when he realized I wasn’t in bed. He sprung into action, wide eyed, when he realized what was going on, cancelled his sub job for the day, sent me to the shower and started rushing around the house getting us ready to go to the hospital. My contractions were still coming but getting more irregular, 12 minutes, 9 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes. I had only gone to bed at 1:30 the night before (3rd trimester insomnia) so after only a few hours of sleep I was exhausted. Sol put on some soft music and started rubbing my feet as I dozed off on the couch. I woke up 3 hours later, realizing that the contractions had completely stopped. The rest of the day they continued inconsistently, coming and going until that evening. By 6 o’clock they had completely stopped, and I didn’t have another one until induction started on Friday. We were disappointed that it wasn’t the real deal, wrote it off as a drill and mentally prepared for what looked like would be an induction on Friday.
At 41 weeks, the day before induction, we went in for a fetal non-stress test and an ultrasound. The baby’s heartbeat was great and everything on the ultrasound looked strong- there was plenty of fluid and the baby was healthy. We went out to our “last supper” at Smash Burger, and then gathered some last minute supplies at Target and Trader Joes. We were giggly and carefree. It felt more like we were starting a much needed vacation than about to have a child. It was a strange feeling to know that the next morning we would be waking up, packing up the car, and driving to the hospital to give birth. Part of me was relieved that I knew when it was happening; that I could wake up leisurely, have breakfast, take a shower, pack the car, have the house clean and the cats set with what they needed. It seemed fitting to my organized, anally prepared personality to have an appt. to go give birth, like my future daughter already knew that I didn’t like surprises. Another part of me was also sad, disappointed that the romantic nature of the “how I went into labor story” would be forever ruined by this appt., that we wouldn’t experience the middle of the night rush around and race to the hospital. I would soon learn though that having an induction appointment doesn’t mean that our experience would be free of surprises…
On Friday morning, April Fools day, at 41 weeks and 1 day we went to the hospital to give birth. I had hardly slept the night before, I mean, how do you sleep when you KNOW something that huge is happening the next morning? I didn’t feel as nervous as I had anticipated I would though, I felt calm and ready. We left our house that day knowing that we would return as parents, with a human that we were now in charge of taking care of. It was still a little hard to wrap our heads around.
We arrived at the hospital and checked into triage. We went through several offices, filling out paperwork and talking to various hospital personnel about how everything was going to work. We waited to be assigned a labor and delivery room, and a nurse arrived to escort us there. I changed into a gown and answered what felt like a zillion health related/personal questions from the nurse who entered everything into the computer. At some point I asked if I had come in during active labor if I would still be going through all of these same steps, envisioning breathing through painful contractions or leaking embryonic fluid while moving through offices answering questions, “Um no, we would be doing this afterwards,” the nurse answered. Sol immediately started snapping pictures before I had even finished changing into my gown, I glared at him,“You better slow down buddy, or this is going to be a long few days.” The nurse and the nursing student that was shadowing her placed an IV in my hand and hooked me up to 4 different monitors, 2 that were strapped across my belly, 1 on my arm and 1 on my finger to monitor my blood pressure, my contractions and the baby’s heartbeat. The monitor of the baby’s heartbeat became our soundtrack for the next few days, the soft thumping reassuring me that she was okay no matter what happened. The nurse informed us that induction could be quick or could take as long as 4 days…although the 4 day estimate shocked us, we were still convinced that we would be meeting our daughter that day. Our spirits were high and we were enthusiastic, we couldn’t wait to hold Lola in our arms.
The doctor came in to check me and begin the induction process. He checked me, I was only 1 cm dilated, not effaced and baby was high. Not great news when the goal was to be 10cm and 100% effaced. Pitocin had already been ordered, but Pitocin can only do so much if my cervix isn’t remotely dilated. Standard procedure is to use a cervix ripening medicine to kick labor into gear, and then continue with Pitocin. Kelley, my nurse sister, and my doula Sara had both strongly recommended refusing the cervix ripening drug that they use. The drug is black labeled, has a long list of scary side effects and was never intended to be used for induction. Although they use it all the time in many hospitals, I was wary of accepting it after their warnings and wanted an alternative. The alternative was a series of VERY painful and uncomfortable procedures that I received throughout the day. First, the doctor manually stretched my cervix from 1cm to 3 cm. This was (up to this point) the most painful experience of my life. I squeezed the crap out of Sol’s hand as I writhed around in pain. We took a short walk before the Pitocin arrived, knowing that once I was hooked up to it I would be confined to a small radius around the bed. We found a nice patio and enjoyed the sun for a few minutes, it was a beautiful day and it would be the last time I would see the outside for awhile.
The Pitocin was started slowly, initially started at a minimal dose and the nurse increased the dosage by 2 milliunits every half hour. It would be hours before I would feel even the slightest contraction but the nurse assured me it would only be a matter of time before I was in pain. (Yes, this was an assurance because pain=baby) The first few hours went by slowly. Sol and I listened to music, read magazines, called friends, chatted with nurses, had a visit and sandwich delivery from Mark and watched the time tick by and the Pitocin increase.
The doctor returned after a few hours to check me again, and perform the 2nd painful procedure. I was still only at 3cm, so he inserted a foley balloon to stretch me from 3cm to 4cm.
By 8pm that night I was still only at 4 cm but I was starting to feel the contractions. After the midwife came in and performed the 3rd and 4th painful procedures of the day (scraping my cervix, twice) I had a couple of extremely painful contractions. I was scared and surprised by the power and pain of the contractions. I felt panicked and slowly tried to reconnect with my breath as I fought to recall everything I new about natural pain management techniques. We called Sara, our doula, to arrive because at that point I knew that if I wanted to avoid the epidural for much longer we would need her guidance working through the contractions. I was told by Sara and the nurses that lying in bed was the worst place to be during contractions, and they were right. I got out of bed to sit on the exercise ball and I was instantly relieved of most of the pain. The Pitocin was still being increased at regular intervals, and was now almost at a full capacity dosage of what they could give me. The contractions were still coming, but were mild with the help of rolling around on the ball. My parents and godparents also came to visit and were a nice distraction. I had my back towards the monitors, but Sara and Sol were facing me and watching the contractions come in- teasing me as I talked and laughed through contractions. They hurt, but I am a pretty tough chick, and ignoring their presence somehow lessened the pain.
As the night went on, the Pitocin increased along with the strength and frequency of the contractions. Sara helped us work through some pain management techniques, helping us with positions and breathing, and she and Sol took turns massaging my back and applying counter pressure through the contractions. We continued this pattern for several hours until after 1am. At that point I was exhausted. I just wanted to sleep. The Pitocin was still going full throttle, I was still pain-med free, and I was still only dilated 4cm. There was no way that I was going to be able to sleep through the contractions at this point, they were too strong, frequent and painful. We sent Sara home, knowing we would need her tomorrow and that there was not much she could do while we slept. I got into bed, where my pain only increased, and Sol continued to massage my back and try to comfort me into sleep. After a short time it became apparent that the pain was too much for me to sleep through, and the more tired I got the more discouraged and frustrated I was. I knew that we had a long day ahead of us and at some point I was going to need strength to push this baby out, so around 3 am I decided that it was time for the epidural. It felt like it was too late and I was too exhausted to be making decisions about giant needles going into my spine, but I knew it was necessary to get some much needed rest and comfort for the rest of this journey. I told the nurse I was ready and she called the anesthesiologist.
The anesthesiologist showed up with a big cart and a smile. He was full of personality and energy, which was a stark contrast from the zombie state that Sol and I were in, or actually a stark contrast from what you expect from anyone at 3:30 in the morning. He enthusiastically went through his song and dance, drawing me a diagram of the giant needle going into my spine, having me sign paperwork, all while I breathed through painful contractions. I got into position and Sol got into a position where he could watch (yes, he wanted to watch). The procedure of inserting the giant needle and catheter into my spine was foreign and alien feeling, but not painful at all AND I gained major street cred from Sol who later described the giant needle to me which I thankfully did not see. I settled back into bed and almost immediately felt the soothing effects of the pain meds. The anesthesiologist showed me how to use the “clicker” for breakthrough pain, I told him he was my new BFF, and after the nurse inserted the catheter, he and the nurse left Sol and I to try and get some sleep. Sol immediately passed out on the nearby couch, and I attempted to doze off. The first 30 minutes of the epidural were fabulous, all of my pain was gone and I was feeling drowsy. Slowly I started to realize that I could still feel the contractions. I had been told I might still feel a little pressure, but I went from pressure to borderline pain fairly quickly. I pressed the “breakthrough pain” clicker a few times, I thought it was three but I was later told by the nurse that it was eight- I guess I was in more pain than I thought. From 4:30 to around 6 I tossed and turned, not sure if what I was feeling was normal, or if it was just my imagination that the pain was getting more intense. I was frustrated and I realized that it was almost impossible to sleep in a hospital. There are beeping and buzzing monitors, including the baby’s heartbeat monitor which was pounding away. There’s an alarm that goes off every time one of my IV’s got close to running out, and I had on a blood pressure cuff that squeezed the crap out of my arm every 15 minutes. All of this, on top of the “natural birth” woman in the room next door who was screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs from about 5 to 6am.
When the doctor came in at 6am to check me, I was still only at 4cm, was exhausted and had gotten a total of about 20 minutes of sleep in 24 hours. She broke my water, intending to strengthen contractions and further dilate me. I felt the whoosh of fluids, and could even feel the baby drop further into my pelvis as her cushy little water house was emptied. 2 scary things happened almost immediately: the nurses discovered that my embryonic fluid contained miconium, which meant that the baby had a bowel movement in utero (this is common with late term babies, but can lead to serious breathing complications at birth), and my contractions went from uncomfortable pressure to intolerable pain. I shook my legs around and realized that my epidural was not working, like, at all. All of a sudden I felt EVERYTHING and was in so much pain. The manual stretching of yesterday all of a sudden felt like a pina colada on the beach next to these contractions. Sol was still sleeping but jumped out of bed to my side, sleepy faced and confused, as I writhed around in pain, moaning, tears streaming down my face. The nurse called in the anesthesiologist who was there in minutes, standing over me with a confused look on his face. He talked through some possible conclusions as he loaded a syringe with local anesthesia and hooked it to the epidural catheter going into my spine. He told us that the tube could have slipped into my blood stream, but if that was the case the local anesthesia would cause some disturbing effects which he described as I continued to cry out in pain. He inserted one syringe full, then two..nothing. With the third syringe full he inserted I seized, my head all of a sudden felt like it was floating off of my body, I shot up in bed and started to involuntarily try to struggle past the hospital personnel that had gathered, blindly attempting to pull cords and tubes off of me. I couldn’t see, I was stammering nonsense, hyperventilating. The nurses and doctor grabbed my arms and another nurse put an oxygen mask on me as they moved me into a seated position on the side of the bed. My head was still reeling and I was so disoriented and confused. “That’s it,” the anesthesiologist said, “It’s in her blood stream.” They would need to remove and replace the epidural, but this time instead of being calm and prepared, I was shaking and confused. I was scared to death. I had never had this much intense medication all in my body at once, or felt so out of control of how my body was feeling. The nurses held me in place while I continued to have intense contractions and attempt to regain my composure from the medication in my blood stream. Sol was about to faint and asked to have a chair to sit down, still holding on to my hand. I threw up. The anesthesiologist began to skillfully place the second epidural as I clutched the oxygen mask and tried to regain my breath. I asked how Lola’s heartbeat was. I was told that even though my blood pressure was crazy, hers never skipped a beat, it was still perfect. The anesthesiologist was still bewildered, and said that in 18 years he had never seen anything like this happen. I asked if I was going to be okay, and they said yes, although I don’t think that they even knew. I had spent so many weeks being so worried about Lola’s health, and her making it out of me healthy and in one piece, that it never occurred to me that something scary or life-threatening could actually happen to me. The thought terrified me, not for me, but for Lola. She needed me, and I needed to be strong for her. In my stupor, I stammered to the nurses through my oxygen mask, fighting tears “I have to be okay, I have to be Lola’s mommy.”
The second epidural was placed perfectly, and my pain started to subside although I was still feeling dizzy and nauseous and having a hard time breathing. I started to relax a little bit though, and focus on breathing into the oxygen mask. My mom called to check in and Sol told her what had happened. Sol asked me if I wanted her to come to the hospital, that it would still be awhile before the baby was born and there was nothing she could really do in the meantime. I didn’t care, I was having an extreme “I need my mommy” moment and needed her to come, and she came, bearing much needed coffee and breakfast for Sol, and even more needed hugs for me. The epidural was officially working its magic. The nurses kept telling me that I had the “perfect epidural,” I was pain free but could still maneuver around in bed and operate my legs to some extent. It was nice to be relaxed and pain free and we spent the rest of the morning resting from our overly-action packed night.
At around 11am the nurse came into place an internal monitor which was intended to give them some more detailed information about the strength and usefulness of my contractions. They were pretty strong but still irregular, and not indicative of birth happening anytime soon. I was still only dilated 4cm. Shortly afterwards, the nurse and midwife returned with a new game plan. They explained that although I was still receiving full forces of Pitocin, they thought that it had stopped being effective because all of my receptors to it had been filled and blocked. They were going to stop the Pitocin for an hour, and then re-start the gradual, painstaking process of beginning at the lowest dose and gradually raising the dosage by 2 milliunits per hour. This was devastating news. It felt like I was starting from scratch and that the last intense, painful 24 hours were all for not. After she turned off the Pitocin my contractions stopped almost immediately. This was a bad sign, it meant that the drug was doing all of the work and my body hadn’t caught on yet. After an hour, the Pitocin was started again and we settled in for another few hours of watching the clock, the contraction monitors, and the levels of Pitocin rise. The nurse came in and did another ultrasound to see if the baby’s position was somehow affecting my lack of progress. The baby was head down and getting a little lower, but she was facing my left side instead of the desired position, towards my back, which could be preventing her from dropping any lower. The nurse propped me up on some pillows in a way to try to encourage the baby to naturally turn, and I was able to rest and even dose off for a few minutes eventually. The doctor returned several times to check me, but with no progress, and it became clear that although they were still putting on their positive faces, they were getting ready to throw in the towel and call C-section.
The next heart-pounding moment happened that afternoon as I was propped up waiting for baby to turn. I was relaxing in bed, enjoying Pitocin–land and surfing around the internet on my phone. All of a sudden, 6 nurses and a doctor ran in and started playing with monitors around me, turning me around, adjusting sensors and straps that were attached to me. Baby’s heartbeat had dropped from a normal and healthy range of 130-160 bpm to a dangerous below 60. This was the first time through the whole experience that her heartbeat was anything but perfect, and I was terrified. My parents were reading quietly and Sol was sleeping on the couch. He instantly (for the second time that day) sprung out of bed to my side to a terrifying scene. He later said he has to stop falling asleep, because every time he did something horrible happened! After a few minutes of poking and prodding and moving me around a little bit her heartbeat thankfully returned to normal and I could breathe again. They suspected that the position I was in had caused her cord to be temporarily squished in a strange way which lowered her heart rate so I shifted into a different position and tried to relax, keeping one eye on her heart monitor for the rest of the day.
The afternoon wore on and it became clear that the repeat Pitocin process wasn’t working. I still wasn’t dilating. At about 4, the doctor and midwife came in to start getting me mentally prepared for a C-section. An anesthesiologist came in to talk to me about the process, and I spent about an hour with Sol and my parents trying to talk myself into being okay with this experience. I am just a “find the positive side of things” kind of person, so knowing that this was my reality involved some mental list making of possible pros of C-section over vaginal birth. At around 5, my doctor came in to start paperwork and surgery prep, the nurse was already donning her surgery apparel. Just to verify that my labor was really at an impasse, the doctor checked me one more time. “You’re dilating!, AND effacing! AND she’s lower!” the doctor exclaimed. “You’re kidding me!” I gasped. There was also evidence of my mucous plug and bloody show. After 30 hours with almost no progress, all of the signs of active labor were showing up, all at the same time. I was almost 7 cm dilated and the baby was getting ready to come. It was almost as if our little trickster had heard us start talking about surgery and said “okay, okay, I’m coming!” I asked the doctor what happens now, he said, “well, we wait.” At the same time I was grateful that a vaginal birth was still a possibility, I was newly frustrated with the prognosis of more waiting. I was beyond exhausted, mentally and physically, and I wasn’t sure that by the time I got to 10 cm (whenever that might be…) I would still have the energy to push. The doctor said he would be back in 2 hours to check my progress again. 2 hours passed, and I was still 7cm. 2 more hours passed, still 7cm. The nurse told me that we would give it a little bit more time, but if I still wasn’t moving past 7, a C-section was still in my future. At around 11 the midwife checked me one more time and announced the moment that we had all been waiting for, I WAS 10 CM! IT WAS TIME! I thought that at this point I would be terrified, but I wasn’t. There was a strange calm that came over me and I was noticeably relaxed, and even excited. I was SO ready to meet my little girl and for this whole ordeal to be over! I was also elated that I would get the chance to give birth vaginally, and it looked like, for the time being I had skirted a serious surgical intervention.
Over the next hour or so, I propped myself up in bed to let gravity do some work pushing her into the birth canal while nurses rushed in and out of the room prepping all of the materials they would need for delivery. I sipped ice water with a cool cloth on my forehead and listened to the soothing sounds of our “music to birth by” playlist while Sol, Sara, my mom and Rivkah took turns massaging my feet and shoulders. At 12:30, after almost 40 hours of labor, our nurse Cindy came in to announce that it was time to start pushing. I got into position, with Sol and Sara manning each leg, Rivkah stroking my head and giving me sips of water between contractions and my mom taking pictures and watching the monitors. Cindy watched my contraction monitor above my head and counted down each time I needed to push, and then counted down as I breathed and focused all of my energy on getting this baby out of my body. Sol and Sara and the nurse were all great cheerleaders, offering gentle encouragement and keeping me focused. Sara, my doula, said that I was the best pusher she has ever seen! It had been a long couple of days but I am tough and I was determined to get this little girl out. The actual delivery, the 50 minutes that I pushed, was the most calm, peaceful and enjoyable part of the whole experience –and let me say God bless that epidural. I didn’t feel any pain, and I was really able to relax and enjoy the process. I understand the whole natural birth badge of honor thing, and I have nothing but respect for mamas that can do it, but I am really glad that instead of screaming bloody murder like my neighbor at 5am, I was calm, centered and able to gracefully welcome my daughter into the world.
As soon as she was crowning, the midwife stepped in to guide me through those last few pushes and pull my beautiful daughter from my body. Lola was here! “Look at all that hair, look at all that RED hair!” the nurse exclaimed.
Because of the presence of miconium, we had already been told that instead of having her placed immediately on my chest, she would need to be taken to the nearby warming table to a team of nurses waiting to clean out her lungs and make sure she could breathe successfully. I got to peek at her for just a second before she was taken over to the table, but she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and her cry, seconds later, was the greatest sound I’ve ever heard. I didn’t cry, I thought I would cry, I was just stunned and overwhelmed by the moment.
Sol kissed me and then rushed over to the table where Lola was being cleaned up. She had been crying, but as soon as Sol knelt near the table, put his face close to hers and started talking to her, she stopped crying and stared up at him. She recognized his voice immediately and proved that all of those months of him talking to my belly paid off! It was an amazing sight.
As the midwife delivered the placenta, I remained focused on Sol and Lola and the NICU nursing rushing around them. I was anxious to hold my baby, and looked down at the midwife for a sign that everything was going okay. I knew that she had already delivered the placenta, but she was still busily working with a concerned look on her face. All of a sudden there were 6 more doctors and nurses in the room with masks on scurrying around me. I started to feel really faint and light headed. Lola was put on my chest for just a few seconds, I looked at her sweet face and she was swooped away.
I looked up at Sol who had put his face right in my face and kept saying “Don’t close your eyes! Don’t close your eyes!” I heard bits and pieces of conversations going on around me as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I heard the midwife talking about blood loss, I heard a doctor quickly read through some worst case scenarios to Sol, as I was unhooked from various machines and wheeled away, I heard her use the words “hysterectomy” “transfusion” and “save her life.” And that’s the last I remember before I blacked out, and woke up in the operating room.
Regaining consciousness and waking up in the OR was a total out of body experience. When my eyes opened, I had no concept of who I was, where I was or what was going on. I was strapped to the table, with both of my arms out to the side and my legs up in stirrups. I couldn’t move or speak. All I could see above my head were these 2 huge blue spaceship looking lights and a series of reflective metal panels. The first few minutes resembled a montage from a movie about drug overdoses, like a scary dream sequence. I just saw flashes of light and sounds, it was horrifying and disorienting. (This was probably the Ketamine that I later learned that they gave me). After a few minutes of staring upwards, paralyzed with confusion and fear, I started to turn my head and look around me. The light was so bright that it was hard to focus on anything, but I realized there were hoards of figures rushing around me with these plastic splash masks that covered their whole faces and made them look like alien creatures. No one was staying still for very long, but what helped me to come back into my own body was trying to focus on people’s faces as they got close to me. I started asking questions, I would stop someone to ask them a question and then they would scurry along with their business and I would stop someone else with a different question. They started out really general “Where am I?” “What’s happening?” “Am I alive?” “How did I get here?” Although I still had no concept of who I was or what was going on, and had no recollection of just having a child or that I had a family that were somewhere around there…I started to slowly piece together what was happening. I was told that I had lost 50% of my blood and needed to have more blood put in, and that they had to save my uterus. My questions got more specific (and sillier) “Am I going to die?” (One nurse, who thought he was particularly funny said “no, well, I guess everyone is going to die someday”) “Where did the blood come from?” “Are all of my organs still there?” (I think that was referring to the word “hysterectomy” I heard before I left the delivery room.) A nurse got close to my face and said to me “Your husband and baby are doing great, they have been doing skin-to-skin for the last hour”. I remember being stunned that I had a husband and baby, and then wondering “where have I been for an hour?” Another nurse came up to me and said “Your family is all waiting for you, they are all really worried.” I remember wondering “my family? Who? Where?” Eventually I was wheeled out of the Operating Room, still confused and disoriented but starting to feel more and more with it by the moment. By 4am I was wheeled to a little recovery area, which was basically a hallway separated into little areas by curtains, so that I was in a little room with my nurse and the bed that I had been wheeled out of the OR on.
It had been so uncomfortable to be attached to all of these tubes and wires and monitors for so many hours, and I was so relieved when I knew that I was going to deliver vaginally and that in just a matter of time I would be free of all of it and able to take a shower and start to feel human again. When I was wheeled into recovery the first thing I noticed is how many ADDITIONAL wires, tubes and monitors were now attached to me. I had 2 IVs in each hand, tubes coming out of every orifice, monitors taped and strapped everywhere. I could barely move and was so disappointed that even though I got my non-surgical delivery, I ended up in the OR anyway. Sol and my mom arrived soon with hugs and tears of relief. I cried and asked them to explain what had happened, and they went over the details of what the doctor had told them. My placenta had fused itself to the walls of my uterus, so when the placenta was delivered pieces of the placenta still remained and I started hemorrhaging blood. After losing 50% of my blood volume within the first 15 minutes after delivery, I was rushed to the OR. They did a D &C, to clean out the remaining placenta in my uterus. Then they placed a Bakri balloon in my uterus, which acts like an internal tourniquet to stop the bleeding. The balloon is inserted and then inflated with saline to put pressure on the walls of the uterus to stop the bleeding. The balloon is also attached to a tube with a blood bag at the end that hangs out of me (cute huh), and involves another Foley cath. Then they gave me a blood transfusion, I needed 4 units of blood to replace the volume that was lost.
Rivkah, Sara and my dad soon joined us for more tearful hugs, and then the NICU nurse brought me Lola. I finally got to snuggle my sweet baby, but it was a challenge to say the least with all of the hard pokey things attached to me and the IVs sticking out of my hands. Lola was so hungry by the time she got to me, she had been sucking on Sol’s finger for over an hour and was making rooting faces at me before she even touched me. She started nursing immediately, had a great latch and ate like a champ. It was such a relief that even though we didn’t have that immediate skin-to-skin contact and ability to nurse right away, we could still have that connection. I couldn’t stop staring at her. She was so beautiful and I couldn’t believe that she was finally here. It’s totally cheesy and cliché, but everything everyone says about seeing your newborn for the first time is true, that you instantly forget about all the pain and heartache that surrounded their birth and fall in love. I instantly felt that “I would do anything for you” feeling that I had heard so much about. Sol and I camped out in recovery for several hours with the nurse monitoring us before we were allowed to head up to our postpartum room.
We were beyond exhausted and uncomfortable, but couldn’t stop staring and swooning at Lola. Almost immediately after our arrival I started bugging the nurse about getting some water, when I could eat (it had been 2 days since I had been allowed to eat!), and taking a shower. She teased me, “you know, most people down here are sleeping or still in a ton of pain, they aren’t bugging me for jello and a shower!” She brought me some crackers, jello and ice water and I slowly started to feel human again. Over the next few hours, several doctors and nurses that had been in the OR or that we had in Labor in Delivery over the last few days came to check up on us. They all remarked how great I looked and how lively I was for what I had just been through. It was almost like my body knew that I had Lola to take care of now, that I had no choice but to bounce back quickly, I had bigger things to worry about!
I had the Bakri balloon and Foley cath in for 24 hours after the surgery; I still had IVs in both hands and was receiving antibiotics for an infection I acquired after my water was broken. I was also still receiving Pitocin to help my uterus contract back together. Slowly, over the next few days I began to shed the tubes and wires, my pain began to lessen and I started to feel more like myself. Each needle or tube that was removed and each step I took towards recovery felt like a huge victory. That first shower that I took was MAGIC! The next few days in the hospital were hard, it was a struggle to try to recover and take care of Lola. Sol was amazing, beyond amazing. My love for him grew exponentially throughout this experience. He went from having no experience with babies to being an expert baby soother and diaper changer in a matter of hours. My mom said that as soon as I was wheeled to the OR she watched him grow up 10 years in 10 minutes. He had to step it up because I was basically strapped to the bed with monitors and tubes still, and couldn’t get out of bed to take care of Lola. He did an amazing job taking care of me AND Lola, handling baby duties, helping to support me with breastfeeding while nursing me back to health. I had more than a few good cries about missing her first few hours of life, but was so relieved to finally be reunited as a family and regaining health that the sadness was quickly replaced by relief and joy. I am so lucky that Lola was born so healthy and happy, and so grateful that it was me that had to go through the hardships after birth and not her. Sol and I are so in love with our little girl and every painful, excruciating moment was completely worth it to meet her. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The days since her birth have been filled with lots of smiling and swooning, we just can’t believe that this perfect little person is ours to hold and love forever.
“Push! Push! Good job baby, you’re awesome!”
My mom wipes the sweat off of Brittany’s forehead as I send her a reassuring smile. It’s my attempt at telling my wife in as many ways as possible how amazing I think she is right now. Verbally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I’m as present as I’ve ever been. There is no more exhaustion. My fears, hopes, concerns, thoughts about work or school, all absent. At this moment it’s me, Brittany, and, coming as fast as she ever has before, Lola.
At this point we’re 36 hours deep into Brittany’s induction, and we can finally see the end. It was beautiful, and bright, but getting here seemed to take an eternity, with many moments of despair washing over us like an avalanche of molasses; you can see it coming long enough, but there is NOTHING you can do about it. With what seemed like a failed induction, as well as a missed epidural, an infection, and meconium in her water, we had just about given up on having Lola vaginally. But, here we are, passing 1AM on Sunday morning, and Brittany is pushing with everything she has. Our midwife Erin has already told us that Lola’s hair is red, and I can begin to see it join the light for the first time ever.
“Push! Push! One more! PUSH! Wow, Brit, Awesome job!”
Lola is getting closer, and nothing is shaking me. I watch as Erin uses her fingers to help Lola’s head inch farther and farther into our lives. Sara, our doula, asks Brit if she’d like a sip of water. Wait, here comes another contraction…
Erin slides her hands further down the sides of Lola’s head, and gently pulls. This is it. She tells Brit to give her some short pushes on her mark.
“Okay, a little one….one more…”
I can see an ear start to come out, now a nose…
“Give me another one…here we go!”
Brit gives one more push and I breathe deep as I watch the rest of Lola’s head, followed by her shoulders, arms, butt, and legs enter into our world. I remember laughing, but not in humor, but the way you laugh when you walk into a surprise party, and it’s for you. It’s more of a catching your breath as your brain, overwhelmed by the situation, tries to remember to fill your lungs, and so laughing becomes a way to keep your brain alive as it is too busy dealing with what is going on in the outside world. And so I laughed.
My attention is quickly pulled away from Lola’s beautiful face as the midwife brings me back to reality. I’ve elected to cut the umbilical cord, and so she hands me a pair of what looks like gardening shears as she clamps the areas just before and after where she’d like me to make the cut.
“It’s tough,” she explains, so I prepare for a fight with the scissors. I bear down with my hand and squeeze. It’s paradoxical, now that I think of it, that this, being the first time I’ve ever intentionally cut through human flesh, was such a freeing experience. Never has a cut in my life previous to this moment meant so much to so many. Lola was now on her own; to breath, to eat, and to grow, and yet she wasn’t, because I was there.
Because of the meconium in the water, Lola had to immediately be taken away to the warming table. The nicu nurse and her team have to ensure that Lola doesn’t take in her first breath before they rid her mouth and nasal cavities of any of the sticky, tar-like substance. It was explained to us that if they don’t catch this, it can get in her lungs and can cause serious difficulties with her breathing. It was our intention to have Lola be introduced to mom’s chest as soon as I cut the umbilical cord, but we understood the implications of our situation. We just wanted the best for her, and besides, it would only be a matter of moments for them to clean her and get her to mom.
Our nicu nurse collected Lola and brought her to the warming table, and I followed. I found myself crouched down next to the table, my face in Lola’s as they checked her vitals, cleaned her of the white milky substance that makes her look like E.T., and weighed her, and I am in awe. Lola’s eyes are open and I can tell she’s afraid. As she cries I say her name and she looks in my direction. She’s heard my voice for the last nine months, and so I like to believe that she knew my voice and was soothed by my presence. Who knows really, but it was all I could do as she was being worked on by the nurses.
For those few minutes with Lola on the warming table it was just me and her. She held tight to my finger as they gave her a bath, her bottom lip quivering with every cry. She was scared and I just wanted to do whatever I could to let her know that she wasn’t alone, and that she had someone she could trust in this world. It was me and her and no one else. It was peace. It was love. It was whole and it wrapped us both into a new kind of womb, washing over with warmth and a smile. It was everything I’ve known that I wanted to give since the first time I’ve ever felt alone and scared and unable to trust. To be a dad was my calling, and at that moment I was finally complete.
As I’m staring back and forth between Lola’s deep blue eyes and her beautiful red hair, the nicu nurse leans down and whispers into my ear,
“You’d better go check on your wife. She’s bleeding a bit more than normal.”
And suddenly I’m ripped from my the caress of Lola’s presence and brought back to the real world. I suddenly realize that my back has been to Brittany and her team of nurses and doctor’s that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Where there was once a nurse and midwife there are now 4 nurses, an anesthesiologist, the midwife, and a doctor. The doctor is wearing a full OR outfit, complete with elbow-length gloves and a mask with face shield. But what I first noticed was the blood. In a room full of hospital officials wearing pastel green, light wood floors and soft lighting, all I see is red. The doctor is crouched over a plastic bag designed to catch the placenta, and I can see that it has been filling up with blood for the past 10 or 15 minutes. I dodge past a frantic nurse and squeeze between the doctor and the green scrub-lined table upon which she is placing these bloody pieces of placenta in an effort to make my way to Brittany’s side. I reach for her hand and look at her face and it resembles a shade of green akin to a ‘70’s era refrigerator. Knowing something was wrong, but not what, all I knew to do was to stare at Brittany’s face and tell her she’s going to be okay. I can tell that she is beginning to become light headed and that she hasn’t been briefed on her situation. Neither was I, and I was caught in the dark chasm between needing to stay with Brit, and needing to know what the fuck was going on. I try to stay calm and take a breath before I turn to look down at the doctor who is too engrossed in what she is doing to notice that I am staring at her, and I simply ask her, “What’s your name?” I make sure it’s loud enough that she’ll notice, and she looks up to realize that there is a frightened husband who wants some answers.
Kindly, and in a matter-of-fact way, she explains: Brittany’s placenta has attached to the uterus in several places, and uncommon occurrence, but it does happen. Therefore, when she gave birth to the placenta she began to hemorrhage wherever that placenta had attached. She was in the process of removing as much of the placenta that had been left behind manually, but explained that they were in the process of getting her to the OR in order to be certain they had removed it completely. Worst case scenario, if she didn’t stop bleeding they’d be forced to give her a hysterectomy. I understand and say respond, “Okay,” but I’m thinking, “What are you waiting for! Go!”
It was at this point that the nicu nurse, aware of our situation, carries Lola over, saying that mommy needed to say goodbye, but she’d be back. I couldn’t take it anymore. As soon as Lola hit Brittany’s chest I started crying in a way that was both joyous and painful. It was nine months of anxiety to finally see my baby girl and her mother together, but she had mere moments in an anemic daze before the nicu nurse took her back and they were wheeling her to the OR. I felt so awful that this was their first touch, a gesture of love before mom is taken away and my scared baby is left in the nitrile hands of a nicu nurse. As the last few inches of Brittany’s bed made it’s way past the threshold, tunnel vision had set in, and there was only one thing to do; I turned around and asked the nicu nurse if it was okay for me to take my shirt off and do skin-to-skin with Lola. “Of course!” she replied. I immediately took off my shirt and held my baby girl on my chest for the first time. At this point it’s difficult not to get cliché on the subject. It was love at first touch. She was mine, and I was hers. I would do anything for this human being, absolutely anything. I wondered how it is that fathers can turn their backs and walk away, because I wasn’t going anywhere. I was home. And at the same time, this was the scariest moment in my life. As I’m holding this new life in my arms I couldn’t help but think about how much I missed my wife, Lola’s mom, my partner. I wanted so badly to share this moment with the person who deserved it most, and it was all I could do to keep myself together, to be strong for somebody else besides myself.
It was an hour and a half before we found out that Brittany was in recovery. The surgeon approached me on the way to her bed and explained that they were successful in removing the rest of the placenta from her uterus. They placed a bulb in her uterus and pressurized it with saline, effectively halting the hemorrhaging and in turn saving her uterus. I acted very professional in front of the doctor, at least as much as I could after having caught two to three hours of sleep in the last 24 hours. It was “uh-huh,” this, and “I see,” that the entire way through. But, after he finished reciting his operation to me I grabbed his hand and thanked him the way you might thank Superman for catching you as you plummet from a city skyscraper, 6 inches from death, eye to eye with a blade of grass as it finds light through a crack in the cement. I felt like we were close to disaster, and that we had been saved.
In recovery, Brittany lay with myriad tubes, wires and proprietary attachments as two nurses stood watch, charting and monitoring as her family pour in with hurried steps and wide eyes. I reached her first and immediately placed Lola on her chest. Brittany startled a bit, obviously still recovering from the Ketamine and whatever else they use to down a human in prompt form. She lifted her head and immediately smiled as she saw the warm, tiny body that lay in wait for everything it is that a mom has to offer. I filled Brittany in on the details of what horrific things had just happened to her and been done to her body while an aura of peace surrounded her bed as Lola fed for the very first time. As I tried to regain my breath and wash my adrenaline-soaked veins I couldn’t help but be pushed by the overwhelming calmness that was invading our presence. The volume turned down, the lights dimmed, and as Lola continued I grabbed my mom and wept a final release of terror and loss into her shoulder. I swallowed a fresh new air that I had never tasted before, and I knew I was okay. Brittany was okay. Lola was okay, and nothing would ever be the same.