WARNING: This entry is about childbirth. If that squicks you in any way, shape, or form, don’t read it. You have been warned.
(don’t complain to me if you read on and get grossed out)
When I gave birth to Sam, I hadn’t slept in close to 48 hours.
Two nights before I gave birth to him, I didn’t sleep. I was contracting, on and off, and he was settled squarely between my hip bones, sending waves of pain through my body whenever I moved, no matter the position I was in. I was finally tired enough to ignore the pain by morning, but I couldn’t catch up on the lost sleep. Instead, I had to go to the hospital for a non-stress test, to make sure Sam was still alright and kicking, since I’d gone past my due date and since I’d noticed his activity had slowed in the last several days.
I drank a Dr. Pepper on the way in, and my mother drove me because I was exhausted and in pain.
(you really do make the world taste better)
The non-stress test is kind of a silly thing. You get hooked up to a monitor that measures whenever the baby moves, and when you feel the baby move, you press a little button like you’re on a gameshow. They suggest you drink orange juice or some other sugary beverage beforehand to make sure that the baby is awake and kicking; I went with a Dr. Pepper and was about two seconds short of begging for a coffee (and I’m not usually a coffee drinker). That’s how tired I was.
After that, I staggered bleary-eyed to be weighed by a nurse who compared my weight on the scale with my weight the previous week. “Oh my,” she said, and I agreed.
In the doctor’s office, I sat patiently on the exam table with a paper sheet across my lap. My mother and I waited and waited and waited, and finally, almost an hour after we’d arrived, a harried doctor rushed in. She was the third or fourth I’d seen in the practice, and her name was Dr. Nabizdeh.
She was all apologies for her lateness and for not being Dr. Solano. “He’s in an emergency C-section right now,” she explained. Alright.
She looked over my numbers: my ridiculous ballooning of weight, my elevated blood pressure, my wonky liver enzyme levels. “Honestly…” she said, frowning. “…if you were my patient, I’d induce you today. You’re not in a bad place yet, but there are enough markers suggesting that you could be if we let you go much longer. And you’re already past your due date, so… let me give this information to Dr. Solano and see what he says, but my guess is that you’ll deliver today or tomorrow, one way or another.”
So I had to wait, but I called Kyle on the way home and told him the results. “So I should plan to leave work early?” he asked, his voice alight with hope.
“Maybe,” I answered.
I figured I’d get the evening, at least, and maybe be induced the following morning. With that in mind, I made plans for the rest of the day: I’d take a nap, have a hearty meal, try to sleep at night, and then go have a baby. It sounded so simple, and I smiled as I laid my head down on my tempurpedic pillow, relieved to finally be sleeping.
Five minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dr. Solano, apologizing for not being at my appointment that day and giving me a new plan. “I don’t see a point in waiting anymore,” he said. “Come on in tonight, and we’ll induce you.”
“Any time or…?” I started to ask, trying desperately to hold onto the promise of a nap.
“The sooner the better,” was his response, and after he hung up, I let out a tired sob and called my mother.
About an hour later, we were back on our way to the hospital. Somehow, eight hours had passed, and it was rush hour. The roads between our apartment and the hospital were clogged, and though I was incredibly hungry, we didn’t want to risk even going through a drive through and finding ourselves stuck in worse traffic. It was only once I reached the hospital–my mom and Kat with me (the former drove, the latter was emotional support until Kyle managed to get through traffic)–that I realized how hungry I was and remembered that you’re not supposed to eat when you’re in labor.
(note: guidelines on not being allowed to eat have changed somewhat since Sam was born, and more hospitals and doctors now realize that maybe if you’re going to be pushing a human out of a hole the size of a kiwi, you should be allowed to eat something)
We broke a cardinal rule of D&D and split the party: Kat stayed with me as I filled out paperwork while my mom went to wait in line at the hospital’s Dunkin Donuts, praying that we could get me a quick meal before the induction officially began. No sooner had my mom left than Kyle arrived, breathless and harried, less than 45 minutes after I’d told him to leave work and come to the hospital.
He works an hour and a half away, and he had to fight I-95 traffic to get there. To this day, I don’t know how he managed it, and I don’t want to know.
Anyway. A nurse brought a wheelchair in for me, and even though I didn’t technically need it, the idea of getting off my feet was too good to pass up. Kyle and Kat wheeled me down to my room, and my mom rushed in a few minutes before the nurse came in to give me my instructions. My mom carried with her a bacon, egg, and cheese wrap, and I ate that thing so fast I almost choked, trying to get it all down before the nurse came in, as if she would have scolded me for packing on the protein before an induction.
When Dr. Solano came in later, he explained how the induction would go. They’d get my labor started in earnest with something called a Foley catheter, a little balloon that they’d insert into my cervix and inflate to increase pressure and, hopefully, encourage me to start dilating. I’d keep the catheter in overnight and start pitocin in the morning, just to keep the labor moving along. With any luck, I’d deliver within 24 hours and not need to go in for a C-section.
He also explained my pain relief options to me. Now, I have nothing but respect for moms who do labor and delivery without meds, but as for me? Give me drugs. Now. That night, after I had the Foley catheter put in, I got narcotic pain relief to help me sleep, as an epidural at that point might have slowed down labor. Kyle and my mom stayed in the hospital with me, and both reported that the narcotics had the unexpected side effect of making it so that I “just would not shut up.”
(Kyle and my mom to me at some point, probably)
I did not get any sleep that night. I don’t remember that night because I was on pain meds, but I did not sleep. Instead, I watched late night television while Kyle and my mom slept, occasionally waking them to tell them “something really important,” but I have no idea what that something ever was, if there was even something to begin with.
Morning came, and Dr. Solano came in to check me. I was now 4 cm dilated, up from the 1 cm I’d been when I came in. Progress! We’d start the pitocin around 8 or 9, he said, but that was also when his shift ended. Dr. Nabizdeh, whom I’d seen the day before, would be with me throughout the day and would likely be the one to deliver Sam. When she came in, I noticed she was wearing a Dr. Who pin, and everyone in the room had a cheerful chat about Dr. Who, Star Wars, and how we were all a bunch of nerds.
The crowd filed out for a bit, and I suddenly realized how hungry I was after making a bathroom trip. My nurse noticed my forlorn expression and asked what was the matter, and when I explained that I was hungry, she looked around furtively and dashed from the room. Moments later, she returned with toast and grape jelly, and I promise you, nothing has ever tasted better than that toast and grape jelly did; even as quickly as I ate, it was the nectar of the gods themselves.
The toast came not a minute too soon; I’d just shoved the last bite in my mouth and swallowed when nurses and doctors all came in to check all my levels of everything and start me on a pitocin drip through the heparin lock I’d had since the night before. Pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, would theoretically encourage my uterus to contract even more and progress my labor. My IV also delivered me a steady stream of saline and antibiotics, the latter to combat Group B strep, which I’d tested positive for a few weeks prior.
I wouldn’t say that I “held out” on getting an epidural for the next several hours; more accurately, even though I was definitely contracting, I didn’t really notice the contractions as they happened. They were twingey and uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel the all-encompassing pain that people claimed I’d feel while I was in labor. It’s the one thing in my life that’s made me the least bit grateful for the agonizing periods I’ve had since I was twelve: labor felt more “uncomfortable” than painful to me.
Still, I knew the bad stuff was coming, so around noon, I asked for an epidural. I figured I must be around 5 cm dilated by that point (I was 6), and my hospital suggests waiting until that point before getting an epidural put in. The anesthesiologist came down to my room pretty quickly, and my motley crew of baby watchers (my mom, my dad, and Kyle) were ushered out into the hall so that I could get my epidural in peace. The only non anesthesiologist in the room with me was the nurse, the same wonderful nurse who brought me toast with jelly earlier. She held my shoulders and let me put my head on hers while the anesthesiologist did the epidural.
If you’ve never had an epidural, here’s how it goes. First, you sit up, which is a fun adventure if you’re in a lot of pain and haven’t slept in what was now well over 36 hours. You sign some papers that you’re supposed to read, but let’s be real, at this point you’re not reading anything. Then you lean forward as much as you can with an eight pound baby still squashed up inside of you. And then you’re not allowed to move. You are still able to move, but if you do move, you run the risk of Bad Things like paralysis or a migraine.
Which is why the nurse was there. I could hardly keep my head up, but she understood that and gave me a place to lean while the epidural was placed.
Anyway, once you’re stone still and curled up while sitting, the anesthesiologist paints your back with iodine, which is cold. Then they give you a numbing agent so that you don’t feel the enormous needle they’re about to stick into your back. The numbing agent doesn’t numb at first; it burns like they’ve just injected you with angry bees. You make a noise like “nnmgh!” but you don’t move because you don’t want to be paralyzed or get a migraine. When the bees have dispersed, they use a very long needle to create a portal to your spinal column, through your vertebrae. They put a tube through that portal, remove the needle, and start coating your spinal column with some magic potion that makes it feel like your legs don’t exist anymore. And then the whole portal area is covered with tape and life is good.
So I had my epidural. About an hour after that, my nurse came in and said, “we should probably give you a catheter.” I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, so I said, “Sure!” This experience was a lot less difficult than the epidural, but a lot more unnerving. After all, not many people are used to catheters by the time they’re 30, and having a tube full of warm pee taped to the inside of your leg is an interesting experience, to say the least.
Around this time, too, Dr. Nabizdeh decided that I should have my water broken. In came another nurse with what looked like a crochet hook in a plastic baggie. I didn’t feel it when she pierced the amniotic sac where Sam had lived for the past ten months, but I certainly felt the sudden splash of warm fluid all over the bed.
Sam seemed to feel it, too, because my water breaking was apparently just what my body needed to move into transition, when your body transitions from opening your cervix to pushing the baby down. My right side was perfectly fine with transition; my left side was not. Somehow, I’d gotten a lopsided epidural, and most of the happy funtimes magic formula was numbing my right side from the waist down, not my left side at all. For the first time, I felt labor pain, and with my nurse’s help, I turned on my side to try and encourage some of the epidural to cover that half of my body, too. Eventually, the nurse called the anesthesiologist again to get me topped off.
He came and topped me off not a moment too soon. Someone–I don’t know who it was, the transition pain was too all-consuming–remarked, “You know, I think she may just need to push.” My parents and Kyle had returned to the room by that point, but my parents had to leave again to await further news in the family area a few doors down. Kyle, meanwhile, was in charge of my push playlist and queued it up to the first song: the theme from Pacific Rim.
(some people want peace and serenity while they deliver. I want to pretend I’m in a jaeger. DANANANA DA DA DA DA DA)
Here’s what I remember about pushing.
Kyle was on my right side, and an adorable young nurse resident was on my left. The resident looked like she was 16, and she was very well put together, but she also had spectacular bedside manner. She was as encouraging as Kyle and my other nurse (who looked to be in her 60s) were.
Dr. Nabizdeh came in early on and stayed throughout. She did not encourage in gentle terms. She encouraged in empowering terms. “You’re a TIGER!” she told me. “You are STRONG! You can DO THIS!”
I didn’t hear any of the music, but I know it affected me, because I was pumped.
At some point, the “hold your breath and push for 10 seconds” routine made my lungs ask, “Why are you doing this to us?” When they did, I rasped, “I can’t–” towards anyone who would listen, trying to convey, “I can’t breathe, may I please have some oxygen or water or maybe take a two minute break?” Instead, rasping, “I can’t–” only resulted in more inspiring and empowering cheers from the nurses, doctor, and husband. “You can do this! You were made for this!” My lungs disagreed, but clearly I survived.
You’re only supposed to push on contractions, but that’s hilarious. The pressure Sam’s head put on the lower half of my body was ridiculous, like feeling the biggest shit of my life trying to come out (he’s just a little shit, after all). Whenever they told me to stop pushing, I was like, “Are you crazy? Do you feel this giant head in me? It needs to come out. It needs to come out right now.”
“Stronger” by Kanye West and Daft Punk was playing when Sam was actually born. We had high hopes for the “Imperial March” or just the main Star Wars theme, but “Stronger” it was.
And then I finally held him. My Sam. He was slimy and squirmy and crying and disgusting, but he was mine, and he calmed down as I helped the nurses rub his back to warm him up. These first moments with him are also a blur, but they’re a much less intense and happier blur. I felt so high, better than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’d ascribe some metaphysical meaning to this, but I know it was just my body releasing all of its feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin and serotonin and so on, in a celebration of this accomplishment. I grew a human, a whole human, with ten fingers and ten toes, a face so like his father’s, blue eyes that squinted at me, enormous hands and feet that didn’t stop moving for anything. I did that.
I basked in the bliss. And then suddenly, Dr. Nabizdeh remarked from between my legs, “This is going to feel really weird, and I’m sorry,” and before I could respond, there was an adult human hand fumbling around inside my uterus. Apparently, my placenta had come out in chunks instead of one whole piece, and Dr. Nabizdeh wanted to make sure that the entire thing came out, that nothing was left behind to cause me to bleed out or have issues. And then it was over and done with, and it was just me, Sam, and Kyle, at long last.