I was traumatized at the start of my ninth month of pregnancy when I was "risked out" of the birth center where I'd planned to have my baby. The constant pain and sleeplessness I'd been experiencing had sent me back on the medication I rely on for chronic migraines. I didn't take much, and hadn't for very long, and I took it only after consulting with three specialists and reading about it online. The consensus was that I wasn't putting Babycakes at any substantial risk; however, the slight possibility of infant withdrawal was risky enough for the Birth Center to wash their hands of me. So, I had chosen a midwife from my regular practice to see me through the end of my pregnancy and labor, thinking that would be the next best thing.
I liked her – she was very sympathetic and non-judgmental and seemed like she would be a comforting person to have around when my time came – which I hoped, fervently, would be soon, quick, and natural, even if it had to happen in a hospital.
Yet after just a couple of weeks in her care, I developed gestational hypertension (the icing on the cake of my consistently miserable pregnancy). I never developed preeclampsia (which is what everyone gets their medical panties in a bunch about when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure), but my situation was still sufficiently Of Concern to send me to maternity triage (ER) twice in one week.
Which is why, at 38-weeks, the midwife suggested induction. At first I said no - given my experience with the Kinglet, I really, really wanted to let this labor to start on its own. But another week went by without any signs of progress, and I ended up in triage again, this time with a BP of 174/104. I still wasn't sick enough to call it an emergency, but I certainly wasn't feeling well. And, it was starting to look like another late-term, ten-pound baby was a real possibility. As much as I wanted to go natural, I honestly didn't think I had it in me.
I'd told the midwife about my first bad birth experience – being stuck to the table the whole time. Dealing with Pitocin-induced labor, hard contractions in a high-stress setting, getting pressured (terrorized, even) to have an epidural and a c-section. The midwife assured me things were much different at the hospital now. She'd make sure I could move around during labor if I wanted to – yes, I could even bring my yoga ball. She'd make sure I didn't get pressured for things I didn't want; we might even be able to avoid the Pitocin, or stay with just a small amount to get things started.
So, with very mixed feelings, we scheduled an induction for Thursday June 5th. I would go to the hospital in the evening to start the procedure, spend the night, and, presumably, have the baby the next day, which is how it went with the Kinglet. Even if labor took longer (and Why On Earth would a second baby take longer? I thought to myself. Ha!), that still left a good part of Saturday morning before Mercury was due to go Retrograde. (as an astrology buff and long-suffering Mercury-ruled Gemini, I swore that I wouldn't let my baby be born under so inauspicious an event. Again – Ha!)
On the night of the induction, we had dinner with the Kinglet at our favorite local pub - our last family dinner as a threesome. Then Tom and I dropped the Kinglet off at his grandparents' house and the two of us headed over to the University creamery. (I had a scoop of peach and one of pineapple pie with real crust. Very yum.) After that we still had time to kill, so we did what any normal couple would do while waiting to have a baby – we went thrift shopping. There weren't many places open, though, and I was having trouble getting interested in anything I looked at, so finally we headed over the hospital.
Things were calm and chipper as we were checked in and, eventually, led to the delivery room (we were still half an hour early, so we had to kill time in the lobby by staring at our phones and putting up with my nervous corny jokes). Once we got settled, though, things progressed in pretty much exactly the way I didn't want them to, as if someone had compiled a list of all things I hated about hospital birth.
I had to be hooked up to a fetal monitor and an IV (for antibiotics and a saline drip) - so much for freedom of movement. Normally I don't have a problem with needles, but the IV port hurt to the point that it brought tears to my eyes. I asked the nurse repeatedly to look at it, but she insisted there was nothing wrong and wouldn't adjust it.
Also, my labor bed wasn't just hard and lumpy; it had a permanent downward tilt of about thirty degrees. This was like the worst possible arrangement for someone with swollen pregnancy feet and painfully bad circulation (venous reflux causes blood to pool in my legs, which hurts and causes restless leg-type symptoms). We had several nurses look at the bed, but apparently it was stuck that way. We tried piling up all the pillows and blankets we could find, but nothing really helped so, once the dilation procedure was started, Tom slept in the bed (much to the confusion of the night nurses) while I rested in the tiny recliner.
Kinda like that.
Since I couldn't sleep, I watched Adult Swim in between trips to the bathroom (of which there were many, thanks to the stupid IV and my long-suffering bladder). Every time I had to go, I had to call someone (or wake up Tom) to detach the IV and monitor from the console, untangle all the wires, and then drag the whole damn contraption with me to the bathroom, only to be untangled and reattached once I was done. Suffice it to say, the first night was very long, and very uncomfortable.
By morning I had dilated from not-quite-one centimeter to a hair over three. A nurse came in to administer Pitocin and I let her, in spite of my qualms. So much for that discussion about when to start it, and how much and for how long. My midwife wasn't even there yet, though her shift had supposedly started.
At this point I lose track of how long things took and in what order they occurred. The Pitocin brought on contractions. Nurses changed shift. I breathed through the pain. Tom and family came and went. I sat on the yoga ball, or stood over the bed, or sat upright, concentrating. Or I watched TV. No biggie.
Eventually my midwife showed up and did an exam. She told me that, after all that, I wasn't dilating. She breezed out again, and the Pitocin dose went up. Nurses changed shift. Contractions got harder. I breathed. Munched on ice cubes. Watched the clock.
The next person to check me was a doctor I'd never met. She was very rough; her exam made me scream in pain, worse than anything I'd experienced yet, though it reminded me of the rough exams my ob-gyn had done when I'd been in labor with the Kinglet. The diagnosis was the same as it was then, too: my baby was still too high to be born – apparently she was resting somewhere near my chin, judging from how far up inside me this woman went. Also I still wasn't dilating, nor was my cervix softening.
The Pitocin went up. The maximum dosage you can have is "ten"(milligrams? I have no idea), and we were getting there. I was offered an epidural , repeatedly, by the doctor and the new nurse attending me. I was asked, repeatedly, to justify why I didn't want one. So much for not getting pressured into things. I explained that I had a history of back problems and didn't want to be jabbed in the spine like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey all for pain relief that hadn't worked for me last time, anyway.
But the contractions were getting worse – of course. I wasn't worried yet, but things were rough. We were getting farther and farther from the breathe-through-it natural labor (or natural mind-set, at least), that I'd been hoping for. When I realized how much I was dreading the next exam by Doctor Hands of Shoving Pain, I let go enough to ask for a narcotic, thinking, okay, I'll be able to relax through the exam and the worst of the contractions and then I'll be dilated and ready to push and this will all be over. Once again – Ha.
The drug was nice, in its way – like last time, it didn't take away the pain but made me better able to ride it out. I liked that. I also liked sleeping (SLEEP! FINALLY! THANK GODZ!), though I did have to fight off some nightmares and a growing sense of unease.
When the midwife came back, it was to break my water. Again, I was surprised that there was no expectation of a discussion first – she just came at me, matter-of-factly. I guess I thought, since she was a midwife, she'd prefer to let the water break on its own. But a midwife from a regular ob-gyn practice, in a hospital, and a midwife from a birthing clinic (or books on natural childbirth) are not the same animal.
But just like with the Pitocin, I didn't argue, even though I had major qualms. Aaack! Why??? Well - I was in pain, of course. And very tired. And much like a deer in headlights - exactly how I knew I'd be when I agreed to the induction in the first place. But knowing is one thing, being in the midst of it is another. It's very hard to put up a fight when you're the patient in those conditions – and I was, now, truly starting to get worried about my non-dilation. Breaking the water would get things going, they said. So I let her do it.
(Having your water broken is a very singular sensation, by the way – imagine popping a balloon by squeezing it between your fingers… feel the squeak of rubber… now imagine you ARE the balloon…. *twitch*. Goodness, am I glad I never have to experience that again.)
But… but… even worried, I was confident. (Does that make sense?) In my mind were thoughts of the Kinglet's birth, less than 24-hours from start to finish… how he refused to come down and everyone was worried until suddenly – BAM, there he was. Quick, everyone in their positions, twelve minutes of pushing and yay, baby! It could still be that way with this one – why shouldn't it? I just needed to stay calm… be patient a little longer… Sit up, for goodness sake. Walk around, even. Let gravity do its work. No worries!
Once you have your water broken, you're not allowed to get off the table. This I discovered when I got up to go to the bathroom and got harassed by Nurse Why-Don't-You-Want-An-Epidural, who insisted that I stay glued to the Torture Table and use a bedpan if I needed to relieve myself.
I'm pretty sure I said some bad words at this point. I demanded to see the midwife (where the hell was she, anyway?!?). The midwife had ASSURED ME I'd be able to move around. The midwife KNEW how I felt about being forced to stay on my back. There was no WAY she'd make me stay on the bed for the rest of my labor, let alone have to rely on Nurse This-One-Doesn't-Want-An Epidural to pee into a bowl.
When the midwife finally returned (with Doctor Agony-Hands in tow) she informed me that it was indeed too dangerous to move around at this point because the cord could prolapse. I understood, on some level, what she was saying, but it didn't even matter. . WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE YOU BROKE MY WATER?!? I demanded. By which I meant, why hadn't this been up for discussion? How could she do this to me, This, exactly This that I'd been afraid of? I felt claustrophobic, panicked. It was bad enough I'd been tied to machines pumping fluids that I didn't want into my body, making me that much more uncomfortable as I tried to sleep and labor on a bed that felt like a medieval torture device designed especially for ME… now I was ticking off the text book sequence of events to that inevitable C-section. I felt betrayed – by the midwife, by the Birth Center for risking me out over what everyone knew was a case of Cover Our Butts as much as it was Better Safe Than Sorry, and by myself, for letting it all happen.
I can't say that I articulated any of this very well. I railed, accused, and cried, and then insisted that everyone leave us alone until I had time to calm down.
It was evening now. Doctor Sadist-Fists had the (new) nurse take me off the Pitocin drip so I could rest. Said we would start over in the morning, working back up from one to ten. My midwife, who I'd summoned back once I could speak without weeping, told me she didn't think stopping the drip now was a good idea, but it wasn't her call any more. Her shift was over, and I was now in the hands of strangers. So much for having my baby with someone I knew and trusted.
I asked for another round of narcotics. At some point – I think before the first round of Pitocin ended, but again, I'm not really clear on things – I noted a particularly unusual contraction. It didn't just squeeze but rather seemed to roll through my insides. I sleepily said to Tom, "That was a very round contraction." Tom mumbled something incoherent, as he was drifting off for a nap too. I had another one, similarly "round" but smaller, and then drifted off to sleep.
Once they stopped the Pitocin drip, my contractions stopped. Friday night oozed into Saturday morning and they started the drip again, but this time there were no contractions to go along with it. Every half hour or so a nurse would come dial it up a notch; somewhere along the middling dose I started having mild pain, but nothing like they'd been and nowhere near where they needed to be. A new doctor – a nice one, with gentle hands (Godzblesser), checked me around daybreak: I wasn't any more dilated than I'd been 24 hours before.
Still, we waited, hoping the Pitocin would do its work; but by lunchtime, I'd been hanging out at the maximum dosage again without any change. That's when New Doctor said to us, "It's time to consider that C-section."
It wasn't much of a discussion, in the end. At that point I'd been in labor (ish) for a day and a half; I hadn't slept more than a few broken hours, hadn't eaten anything but chicken broth since Thursday night (mmm, peach ice cream, how I remember thee.) My spirits were low and there was no end in sight. I wasn't allowed to have any more Pitocin. Baby was locked up there, high and tight, with no amniotic barrier. There really wasn't any other choice.
They sent an anesthetist to prep me with an epidural for surgery. Fortunately (Thank the Godz, again), he was Not a Schmuck – he listened seriously to my concerns and the story of the Kinglet's birth. He was gentle, avoiding the area of my problem discs. He got the injection right on the first try.
Only – just like last time, it didn't work. Mr. (Dr.?) Not a Schmuck fussed over me for a long time, pinching, prodding, tweaking the dosage and asking me questions. Right up to when they wheeled me to the operating room, sometime around 2pm, he was still at it. Was I numbed enough? As it turns out, no. It seems that I'm part of a small percentage of people who are immune to epidurals, so – yay? At the last minute, they had to give me a "spinal", which is a direct application of the medicine, as opposed to an epidural which is… non-direct? Anyway, it went quickly and didn't hurt much at all, and very soon after I had no feeling in the lower parts of me – which in a c-section, I'm given to understand, is a Very Good Thing.
(Actually, it wasn't that I felt nothing. I felt tingling – a very intense and not unpleasant feeling, like starbursts, all over my lower half. Constellations of sensation. It was rather trippy, to say the least. I think I'll write a poem about it someday.)
The surgery was… surreal. They covered my lower half with a curtain and strapped my arms out to either side. The anesthetist and his assistant hung out at my head, offering encouraging words now and then. I felt tugging while the doctors worked. I shivered uncontrollably, and my head hurt something awful. I said as much out loud, but the assistant replied "Oh," in a way that kind of, though not entirely, convinced me I wasn't in imminent danger of a stroke of something. I concentrated on finding my center, prayed to whoever was listening, and waited.
There was a lot of conversation going on around me that I didn't pay any attention to, but at about 2:40 in the afternoon, June 7th, 2014 I heard the doctor's voice go up in pitch, talking to my baby. I heard Babycakes cry for the first time – Godz, isn't that just the best sound? They bustled her over to another part of the room – I could see people's backs but not the baby. I told Tom to go to see. He tried to wait, (I was shaking so hard it scared him) but I was having none of it. GO BE WITH HER, I said, and he did.
He told me she looked good – messy, but good. He spent the next – whatever amount of time – moving back and forth between the two of us. It seemed to take forever for the doctor to finish sewing me back up and unfasten my hands. My head was still killing me - I mentioned this to the anesthetist, just in case, you know, something WAS wrong, and the other guy was just a schmuck. Not a Schmuck gave me a head massage in response, which helped (in the sense that really intense and painful massages work by distracting you from your pain with other, newer pain), while instructing Tom (unsolicited and at length) how to do it for me later.
Eventually, finally, I was lifted from the operating table in a heavy blanket by a pulley system (felt rather comforting, actually), deposited on a rolling bed, and handed a very pink, squishy-faced, squinty-eyed, blessedly healthy (if very congested) baby girl.
For the record, Mercury had been Retrograde for almost seven hours. So much for Best Laid Plans.
Anna came in at eight pounds, six ounces. Everyone assured me this was a good size, though she seemed Very Small to me in comparison to her (almost-eleven-pound) brother. She was also, like brother, nameless for several hours until Mommy and Daddy could settle on what to call her. We finally went with Anna in honor of our grandmothers.*
She was a very calm baby. When I gave her the breast she latched on right away, and spent the next couple of hours tucked into bed with me. After that, well. You know how it goes. Everything has a warm glow to it. I had a baby. What-the-fuck-ever to everything else. I barely remember.
Except - they told me, at some point, that she was born breech. She hadn't been that way for very long – they knew this because her legs were pliable, not stuck stiffly over her head. I knew for a fact that she'd been head-down and in proper birthing position as of Thursday morning, and had been that way for months. Apparently, the little punk had DONE A SUMMERSAULT while I was in labor (see "Gee, that was a really ROUND contraction", above.)
And this, I think, is the reason that I was ultimately OKAY with Anna's birth, in spite of everything that went exactly the way I wish I hadn't (except the part where she was born healthy and I came out okay, too – that part was just what I prayed for). Everyone kept saying to me, it doesn't matter what you plan for a birth. In a heartbeat, all your expectations can go out the window. And I think, in this case, things worked out for the best. Maybe she wouldn't have turned breech if I hadn't allowed the induction and Pitocin and having my water broken. Then again, maybe she would have – and if I hadn't accepted all those interventions, I might have labored for days and days with a breech baby. And if I'd had a Birth Center labor, like I hoped, I might very well have ended up in the hospital anyway. So… while it doesn't change my opinion about western medicine and birth, I'm OKAY. Because, well … Anna.
* Anna Shawn Rose. Named also for Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet I potrayed on stage the night she was conceived. Her first middle name, Shawn is for my brother. Her third name, Rose, was the Kinglet's choice… it was never really in the queue before she was born, but I was recently reminded that my grandfather had a sister by that name, which makes the Kinglet's insistence on it more interesting, since I like to speculate that he could be Pop reincarnated. The fact that my favorite nurse during labor was a sweet elderly lady named Rose cinched it... Plus the fact that Ani was such a lovely, healthy shade of pink when I first saw her.