Ellie is a good baby. A sweet baby. She doesn’t cry unless she needs something (for now at least, I know this could change). She nuzzles my neck with her little fuzzy head, makes little cooing “eh-eh-eh” noises, and has expressions that make us laugh with delight. I spend my days drinking in the smell of her, kissing her satiny cheeks, and staring into her blue eyes in wonder and joy. She looks back at me as if to say “what took you so long, mom? I’ve been waiting here this whole time.” My daughter. My daughter. Holding her in my arms feels like a reunion, like a long lost traveller has finally come home.
Baby Catching – Part I
Friday morning (January 31st) I woke up to a labor pain. I’d been having contractions for weeks, but this one HURT. I thought I knew what a painful contraction was. I did not. I was so, so naive.
I had a scheduled OB appointment that morning, and I was desperately hoping they would tell me I had dilated beyond the paltry 1 centimeter I had been for two weeks.
At the appointment I complained to the Nurse Practitioner about my PUPPPs, and while she was sympathetic, she told me it was probably not a good enough reason to induce. I was still only 1 centimeter dilated (goddamnittalltohell), and I wasn’t so overdue that it was medically necessary to get the baby out. Tammy and I reconciled ourselves to the sad state of my cervix (what is the holdup, cervix) while she went to check with a doctor about a steroid cream for my belly. But instead of coming back with some cream, she came back with an offer to induce. The doctor had told her the steroid cream isn’t really very effective, and that only delivery would provide me with some relief. Since I was past 40 weeks, I could be induced any time.
We hadn’t really prepared to have that offer thrown at us, and I think the panic of making an important decision like that showed on our faces. The NP offered us some time to think about it while we went off to our scheduled Non Stress Test (NST, something they had me doing for the past few weeks – another post about that another time), and told us to stop by on our way back with a decisions. The NST was absolutely fine – baby’s heartbeat was healthy, I was having contractions that showed up on the monitor, but as my cervix had just been checked and showed minimal dilation, they weren’t too concerned I might go into imminent labor.
Tammy and I agonized over the induction decision on the slow, painful (still contracting!) walk between the OB’s office and the office where they did the NST. We went back and forth on pros and cons, but ultimately decided to give my body a few more days to do it’s thing without medical intervention, which would hopefully avoid a C-section. We asked the NP if we could get an induction set for Sunday night, both to give my body more time to “ripen” (like a damn peach or something) and because our doctor, whom we love, was on call at the hospital on Mondays. She called us later to let us know they didn’t have any slots available for Sunday night, but they did have one for Monday morning at 8AM, so we booked it. Tammy was relieved that we wouldn’t be having the baby until Monday – she was glad to have the weekend to do final preparations, notify work, etc. Poor Tammy. Wish not granted.
Meanwhile, I was still having painful contractions. They were 10 minutes apart in the morning, but by the time we got back from the doctor’s office around 1PM they were 7-8 minutes apart. And they fucking hurt. I was starting to think I was in labor, but we’d had so many false alarms before – contractions getting closer together, only to space out and
piss me the hell off disappoint – so I kept my inkling to myself. Around 4:30, Tammy asked me if we could order Chinese for dinner. She had been timing the contractions, which were a solid 6-7 minutes apart at this point, and she didn’t want to have the hassle of cooking something while she was also trying to time my contractions and hold my hand while I had them. I had absolutely zero interest in food, but I told her Chinese was fine. Looking back, this was another indication that I was in labor – All I’d eaten that day was a slice of toast for breakfast and half a bag of popcorn for lunch but I could hardly bear to think about dinner.
By the time the food came, the contractions were so painful all I could do during them was moan or wail and grip Tammy’s hand with all my might. They were also 5-6 minutes apart. I looked at her after a particularly painful one and said, “I want to go to the hospital and I want an epidural.” Me saying that flipped a switch with her. She absolutely LEAPED into action, grabbing the last of the items for the baby bag, throwing dishes into the dishwasher, feeding the cat, all while running back to me every 3-4 minutes now to hold my hand during a contraction. Poor thing only got to have a few bites of dinner.
The car ride to the hospital was awful. Every bump in the road was magnified, and each contraction felt like my body was being ripped into pieces.
They way our hospital is set up meant we had to check in at the ER desk and would then be admitted to Labor and Delivery. Tammy pulled up out front and walked me in (I was totally incapable of walking on my own), and the second we got inside a bad contraction hit. I had found the most comforting position during contractions was to bend at the (non existent) waist, clutch Tammy’s midsection, bury my face into her stomach or back, and moan. The admissions desk took one look at us standing there and called for a wheelchair to take me up to L&D (I wonder how they could tell I was in labor?). Somehow I climbed in and was whisked off to the fifth floor while Tammy went and parked.
(A note here about the pain: It’s hard to describe what labor felt like, except to say it was so, SO much worse than I could ever have imagine. I think my mom, as much as I love her, set me up badly because she told me her labor pains just felt like “pressure”. And sure, we could call labor pains pressure, if by “pressure” you mean a wild animal ripping apart my belly with its teeth.)
When I got up to L&D the disgustingly chipper orderly made me get up out of the wheelchair and the nurses made me check in. I was leaning over the desk panting and wailing while they asked me questions like “how far along are you?” and, “is this your first baby?” I’m not sure how I restrained myself from telling them to go fuck themselves. All I could think about was making the pain stop. I could barely remember my own name.
Somehow I ended up sitting alone in a chair by the check in desk. Tammy came running in (she had run all the way from the parking garage with our gigantic hospital bag (we totally overpacked)) and found me there, huddled and shaking and whimpering to myself. I’m sure I looked pathetic, but what they say is true: when you are in labor you truly, truly do not care what you look like. I could have been butt naked in front of my boss and I would not have cared in the slightest.
We got into our room and I was told to put on a hospital gown and provide them with a urine sample. A motherfucking urine sample, y’all. Sitting down on the toilet was the most painful position yet (in retrospect I’m sure it had something to do with the baby bearing down on my cervix) and I was shaking so badly I could barely hold the cup between my legs. I ended up handing a pee soaked cup to Tammy to label and hand off to the nurse.
(A note here about Tammy: she was a rockstar. An absolute rockstar. She kept it together when I’m sure I would have been panicking, validated my every whim, every choice, every decision and did her best to keep me calm. She never left my side. I would have been absolutely lost without her.)
At this point I was begging every nurse, tech, and doctor (really, anyone I thought had a remote chance of working at the hospital – I would have asked a janitor) for an epidural. I had started throwing up from the pain (half digested popcorn looks disgusting as vomit, FYI) and I had to endure a painful cervix check during a contraction. I was 4 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. I’d gone from 1cm and 0% effaced at 10:30am to 4cm and 100% effaced at 7:30pm.
Finally, finally, after I got the requisite amount of IV fluid in my system, I was given an epidural. Oh my GOD you guys. The needle hurt a tiny bit, but nothing worse than a pinch and it was only for a moment. Maybe I would feel differently about epidurals if I’d had a some of those bad side effects you hear about (itching skin, for example, or bad headaches) but I had no adverse reaction whatsoever. I thought I might be disappointed that I opted for an epidural rather than the non-medicated labor I had planned on, but I wasn’t disappointed then and I’m not now, not in the slightest. They told me it might take up to 15 minutes for the epidural to kick in, but within two minutes I was no longer in pain. The relief I felt was so immense, so overwhelming, that I cried in gratitude. Tammy hadn’t been allowed to stay with me while the inserted the epidural, but when she came back in the room she told me later that one look at my face made her a believer in epidurals.
(A note here about medicated vs. non-medicated births: I’m so uninterested in this debate, if one is better than the other, what it says about you if you have an epidural vs. go without, blah blah. For me, I’m grateful I had the option. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to labor at home, grateful we went to the hospital when we did, grateful I asked for the epidural, and grateful I received it. I’m also grateful that women who want a labor free from medicated pain relief have that option. I’m all about options, and I’m most of all grateful that we have them.)
An hour and a half after I received the epidural, my cervix was checked again. At 10pm I was 8 centimeters dilated. The nurse cheerfully told us to start placing bets on a delivery before or after midnight. Unfortunately, they checked me at midnight and I was still 8cm, and the baby hadn’t moved down at all. They broke my water, hoping that would put the baby’s head closer to my cervix, thus applying more pressure and dilating me further. It didn’t work though, and the baby’s heart rate started showing signs of distress. They made me stay lying on my right side because being on my left or on my back made her heart rate slow to unacceptable speeds. I had to wear an oxygen mask for the rest of the night in hopes that it would help.
Sometime in the early morning the doctor started discussing c-sections with me. She told me she wasn’t sure why I was stuck at 8 centimeters, but it could be that the baby’s head was too big to properly engage (and therefore couldn’t put the required pressure on my cervix), it could be that the baby’s head was at an odd angle in my pelvis (and therefore couldn’t put the required pressure on my cervix). Before they recommended a c-section however, they wanted to try me on a low dose of pitocin, to see if contractions of increased strength did the trick.
Half an hour on the lowest possible dose of pitocin and I was 10 centimeters and ready to push. I was so relieved to avoid a c-section and really excited to push. The epidural had worn off enough that I could feel contractions coming on, but they mainly felt like a tightness and pressure, similar to braxton-hix, rather than the searing pain of real contractions.
The doctor had me do a few practice pushes (“pretend you’re constipated and pushing out a great big poop”) and then called the team in (because I delivered at a teaching hospital, there was the doctor, a resident, a med student and a handful of nurses all there at various points in the pushing process). After the first few pushes, the doctor asked if I wanted to watch myself push, and I said yes. Watching myself, splayed open, pooping, bleeding, and stretching open was both awesome and horrifying. I didn’t enjoy watching myself poop (truly bizarre) but seeing this small dark oval get larger, ever so slowly larger made was worth every view of the gore and poop.
I was pretty cheerful for the first hour of pushing. I felt strong and confident and was filled with adrenaline and excitement. Halfway through the second hour my strength began to fade, and I got more and more tired. I felt like I’d been pushing forever, and started to get weepy.
Pushing hadn’t really hurt up to the point of her crowning – just the pressure and tightness from the (epidurally reduced) contractions. By the time she was crowning, however, everything burned. I was so tightly stretched, and the doctor kept pouring oil over me, then running her finger along the edge of Ellie’s head and my skin to try to stretch me further. I kept telling her that it hurt (because it fucking did) and she kept telling me that the baby was almost here. At one point she had me reach down and feel Ellie’s head, and it was such a strange, exhilarating, rejuvenating feeling.
Just a few minutes before I hit two hours of pushing there was suddenly a lot of activity in the room. All of the various people who had drifted in and out of the room during my pushing process all came back in. Everyone put on these blue paper gowns over their scrubs, and the bottom of the hospital bed was removed. Stirrups were pulled up.
I can’t remember how many more times I pushed. I do remember the final push though – the push that birthed her head. The delivery team was chanting and cheering, and the doctor was saying, “just a little bit more, just a little bit more!” I pushed and screamed and felt my back rise up off the bed. I felt myself tearing – it was like I was being split open. And then, all of a sudden, it was over.
“Stop pushing! Stop pushing, Sarah, for just a second!” The doctor said. “Now one more big push! Push! You can do it!” I pushed again, and felt a tremendous release as her body slipped, all in a rush, into the world.
“Now reach down, Sarah. Reach down and catch your baby!”
And I reached down, and caught my baby, and pulled her up onto me. I was sobbing and shaking. I held my baby girl in my arms and told her it was her birthday, that I loved her, that I was her mommy. I looked at my crying Tammy and said “this is our baby.”
Finally. Finally. Welcome home, Ellie.