Sad little disclaimer: I’ve been working on this entry for awhile, trying to eek a little humor into the story. But it’s hard– when I think about days 2 and 3 of Advent Baby, what I remember just exhausts me. Maybe in a few years, when I have a little more perspective, I can re-tell it to be a little more entertaining. But I’m still shaken from the whole thing, I think… enough to make this story a lot more dry than my usual entries. Be ye forewarned.
When they told me I was being induced, we called everyone on our calling list to let them know that by the end of the day, Skirty would be real life. Possibly– but no promises– she would have a for-real name. We’d be able to count her toes and fingers, pet her hair, and give her all kinds of kisses.
I should have known, just as a rule of thumb, that it wouldn’t go that smoothly, as nothing in my life ever does. But I really should have known better when I got this ominous text message from my older sister:
“If they give you pitocin, don’t feel guilty about an epidural.”
And man alive. No kidding. No guilt on this end, whatsoever. In fact, I do believe that the epidural may be the only thing that saved me from finding a way to crawl outside of my body and complete the labor and delivery process after severing my own spinal cord.
But I digress.
At 5 AM on Thursday, the 11th, they threaded me up with an IV and started a pitocin drip. Here is how pitocin works. Pitocin is just the brand name for oxytocin, which is the hormone that triggers contractions. The body produces this hormone naturally; and a lot of the old-wives tales for starting labor (like having sex and playing with your nipples) exist because those activities produce oxytocin. There is also a spot on your foot that will release this hormone, and for the last week I had been having one of my friends (who is a massage therapist) rub this spot on my feet to try to trigger contractions. It didn’t work. But man alive, it felt nice. I plan on faking a pregnancy just to get these foot rubs from now on.
But here is the drag about pitocin. It’s a little dangerous, because it augments your labor. Augments. That means, roughly, makes it a little less like a walk through Hell and a lot more like diving straight in and taking a nice lava bath in the fiery pits and using brimstone as body-wash. It’s dangerous for the baby, because the contractions squeeze harder than what the body is prepared for. Also, as we discovered, when you go into labor naturally, the baby goes into kind of a dreamy trance-like state which protects them. When you induce, they won’t necessarily do that. Maren totally didn’t, but that doesn’t get important until later.
But because it is so dangerous, you have to stay connected to monitors the whole time. So you know all those plans you had about being in the jacuzzi? Walking up and down the halls? Bouncing on the labor ball? Yeah, not so much. In fact, you have to lie pretty much flat on your back the whole time, which is not fantastic when you are experiencing back labor. But really, nothing is fantastic during back labor.
Oh yeah. And the only thing they give you to eat is jello and ice chips. I probably last all my pregnancy weight in that three days.
That first day on pitocin I had contractions all day, but they weren’t so bad. I mean, I wasn’t exactly in any condition to go running and jumping through the halls or anything, but it wasn’t until that evening that they really started to get out of control. My in-laws and parents were visiting quietly in the room, and had been there all day, with no incident, when suddenly, I looked at Mitch and said, “Dude. Ow.”
And real quick, lets talk about Mitch. Because he was phenomenal.
My husband– like most husbands, I think– is the kind of guy who doesn’t like to hear about a problem unless he can fix it. Preferably with power tools. I think that if it had been up to him, ‘induction’ would have involved about fifteen minutes of very dedicated work with something very mechanical and expensive, and then we would have the baby and all the parts of his wife could be reassembled, no harm, no foul. He isn’t very good at any situation that involves waiting. And he really isn’t good at situations where he is overruled by pushy, snotty doctors and nurses. When we first met, I used to joke that every emotion he had was immediately translated to anger, because he hated being anything other than happy so much that it just pissed him off. For the record, Mitch has never, in all our years together, even so much as raised his voice to me. But I have seen him unleash his temper unto others, and you know the thing that gets him the most bent out of shape? When his wife is uncomfortable, scared, or sad.
In the weeks leading up to delivery, I did a lot of thinking on how to prep Mitch for the big day. I had his brother and my brother on emergency red alert, since they are the only other two people on the planet that can keep Mitch calm other than myself. We had lots of talks about how I wasn’t going to have the wherewithal to respond to him like I should; that I would probably hurt his feelings, that he probably wouldn’t feel as involved as he would like to be. At one point, I even explained that I might not want him to touch me, I might not want him to talk to me, I might just want to be left alone to kind of withdraw and try to wrestle my way through it.
All of those talks and all that preparation ended up exactly as important as the stupid Lamaze breathing. Totally pointless.
At the end of the first day, I was in so much pain that I felt like I was looking at everything through a filter of awful. Everywhere I looked, all I could see was pain, more pain. Normally, when you are in labor the contractions are like waves. You ride one, and then you rest, and then you ride the next one. But with pitocin, the waves are more like peaks, and the valleys are very short– if they exist at all.
Around 5 PM, after 12 hours of pitocin, they checked my cervix, and I had progressed exactly none. Not one bit. The nurses began talking about sending me home, and having me come back if my situation changed. Mitch turned to me and asked if I wanted to go home.
“I don’t know…” I said. “I mean, they said in lamaze that you should go to the hospital when your contractions are so bad that you can’t stand it anymore– that’s where I am right now. So how will I know when to come back?”
So when the nurse came back and made the case about how much more comfortable we would be if we could labor at home, Mitch politely declined. And when she pushed it, Mitch not-so-politely declined.
At around seven, they took me off the pitocin drip and let me have an actual meal. I got to rest in the Jacuzzi for twenty minutes, and then they hooked me back up to the monitors to watch my contractions and Skirty’s heart rate, which at this point was riding a tad bit high.
An hour or so later, the nurse came in, timidly, and suggested that I try to get some sleep. I blinked back exhausted tears and Mitch rolled his eyes. The nurse then cleared her throat and said something beautiful.
“Would you like something for the pain?”
They gave me a dose of fentinol, and about five minutes later I was sound asleep. Apparently, Mitch used this time to complain to the nurse that I had to be hooked up to the machine all night and had to lie on my back. I only woke up at one point that night, and it was when the nurse was busily unhooking me from the machine so that I could lie on my side and relieve some of the pressure on my back.
At 5 AM on Friday, they woke me up to check my cervix. “Oh God,” The nurse said– which is not really something you like to hear when someone has a hand inside your body– “You’ve changed. I’d call you a 6– almost a 7.”
Again with the pregnancy math. One’s cervix must be dilated to a 10 in order to begin pushing– that’s the magic number. “Transitional labor” is the hardest point in any labor; and that occurs between 7 and 10 centimeters. So this was very, very good. I almost started crying again, imagining holding Skirty in my arms by lunch time. And also eating something at lunch time.
They hooked me back up to the machine and started the pitocin again. When the contractions started, they hit harder than they had the day before, but what of it? I was about to have a baby. I felt like I could scale the planet.
At around eight AM, my water broke. Whenever I think of my labor, I think of this as the real main event– the catalyst for everything that happened. Like my entire experience is divided by my water breaking, and all the labor I had had for the last month didn’t even count until my water broke.
Around eight, I said, “Mitch, unhook me, I have to go to the bathroom.” While he unplugged the wires from the NST machine, and I started to rock myself out of bed (have you ever seen a ten month pregnant lady? We rock ourselves into everything), and I felt a little pop inside– kind of like I had to toot (preschool teachers never say fart)– and then all of a sudden–
“Mitch! I’m peeing!” I said this with exactly the same kind of urgency that other women might inform their husbands that they are choking, or have been stabbed. This was an EMERGENCY.
He looked up from the machine and thrust the wires at me. “Then go to the bathroom!”
“But I’ll pee all over the floor!”
“Then stop peeing!”
“I…. I can’t!” I cried, and he held onto my elbow and helped me get to the bathroom, trailing water the whole way. By the time I finally got there, it was pretty obvious that this was not pee (and, by the way– when your man is willing to walk you into the bathroom while fluid is leaking out of you and you are crying at him from the embarrassment of it all, telling you that you are beautiful the whole time– that is called true love, my friend).
Mitch called a nurse in, who looked at the bed, the floor, and the toilet and confirmed that my Bag O’ Waters had, in fact, broken. I think they should name a roller coaster Bag O’ Waters.
Mitch walked me back to bed and got me settled in– and just in time. Because for the next two hours of my life, my world became a blur of pain so intense that I almost have nothing to say about it. I recall– ashamed as I am to admit it– honestly feeling that nothing was worth it. I no longer cared about having a baby. I no longer wanted one. I just wanted to go home.
I was on my side, clutching the hand rail, breathing in those short little puffs that Lamaze seems to think is so great, when the nurse first brought up the idea of an epidural.
“No.” I said stubbornly. When she left the room, Mitch held my hand and asked me again if I wanted one.
“I just…. I wanted a natural birth.” I said. Mitch gestured to all the tubes and wires coming out of me, the machine monitoring our baby’s heartbeat, the contraction monitor that was more and more resembling a topographical map of Colorado, and said,
“Honey. This is all ready not a natural birth.”
About twenty minutes later, a nice young man came and had me sign a few forms and then explained to me that it was imperative that I not move, no matter what I was feeling. They had me sit up on the side of the bed, and Mitch held my shoulders down, pressing my face into his chest, while they inserted a needle into my back and threaded it with a tiny line that would fill my lower body up with something that would make me feel fuzzy and wonderful.
He said, “A little bee sting here…” And it probably was a little bee sting, and would have been no big deal, if every pain receptor in my body wasn’t all ready screaming ARE YOU SERIOUS? WHAT DO YOU TAKE US FOR, MAGICIANS? PAAAAAAAIIIIN WOMAN, INTENSE, INTENSE PAIN!
Moments after the epidural, I could no longer feel anything from my belly button down. They changed the pads on my bed, pushed my legs that were now logs under the covers, and tucked me in for a nap. I can’t remember if I napped, but I must have, because the next thing I remember is it being that afternoon, and suddenly, this whole epidural thing wasn’t working out so hot.
I started moaning, and this was a cue to my Dad, veteran of the delivery room, that it was TIME. He stood up quietly, patted me on the head, and went to the waiting room. The nurse came to my side and checked my cervix and said the next most beautiful thing after offering me the fentinol:
“Ten centimeters. You’re ready to push.”