Houston, we have a baby!
He arrived Saturday afternoon at 4:22 p.m., just over 6 hours after labor officially started. Because of the complications with my back pain, most particularly the grueling previous two days where nothing would relieve the incredible back and pelvic cramping and shooting pains (and it kept worsening, even under the strongest medication and all kinds of natural interventions), we agreed to induce labor under an epidural and deliver the baby so that both he and I could get out from under the pain and start recovery.
We arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m. as instructed, after a light breakfast and a tearful goodbye with Widget. I’ve only been away from Widget overnight twice, and not more than three days total since I quit my job a year ago, so leaving him was hard on both of us. We’ve been reading him lots of stories about becoming a big brother, and his favorite book right now features Doris Doctor, who treats patients in her office (and does house calls! Yes, it’s a childhood favorite of mine, from the 70’s) and helps new mommies and babies in the hospital, so he was familiar with what was going to happen, but it was still incredibly hard on all of us.
We checked in and were taken to a labor and delivery room. We didn’t even have to go to triage, which, I have to say, made this trip easier than my first labor already. They made me comfortable, asked me all the pertinent questions (when was the first day of your last period? do you smoke? is there any history of anything at all in your family?), and then the anesthesiologist walked in, talked to me for a bit, and gently inserted the epidural in my back. It went in easy and was no big deal, particularly since I knew how much it would help me over the next few hours. He brought an assistant, an anesthesiology nurse, who talked to me in soothing tones the whole time and reassured me. I had some apprehension before we started, because of the nerve damage in my lower back, but none at all by the time the needle went in. Easy peasy.
Now, before I continue, I have to admit a good deal of fear on my part here. Remember, I’ve been on bed rest for 29 weeks now, with only 2 weeks up and around, and I’ve got very little strength back so far. I’m also nervous because my back problems started with Widget’s birth, and I’m terrified that something is going to go wrong here. Add that to the fact that I’ve already had two full days of unresolvable pain despite extra meds and I’m a wee bit nervous. My first labor took 30 hours and was incredibly painful (I didn’t have the epidural or any medication until after 24 hours of natural labor had utterly exhausted me). I had a very difficult recovery after that, with six weeks of bleeding, terrible cramps every time I nursed, and this back pain that kept me from doing my job in the office even several months after the birth. So I’ve got some anxiety.
As the epidural took effect, my heart began to race. I suddenly felt terrified, as if I couldn’t breathe, and I felt very dizzy all of a sudden. I called for my husband and told him and the nurse what was happening, and their responses to “just relax” weren’t doing it for me. The oxygen arrived, and I had a moment of sheer panic — this is what I was worried about! this is what my NY friend describes as being “hooked up to machines” and not having a natural birth! would the baby be okay? would I? — and then the anesthesiologist came back, lowered the back of my hospital bed so that my head was level with my body, and the blood rushed back into my head and chest and the panic sensations went away.
You see, epidurals work by gravity. If you lie on one side, that side is likely to numb up excessively and you’ll feel pain on the other as it comes. If you sit up too much, the medicine may not make its way up high enough to control the pain in your abdomen. Only at the end, when the baby is crowning, is it a really good idea to sit all the way up, because that’s when you need the meds in your lower body. The nurse who kept propping me up despite my request to lie down (to save strength) was just plain wrong. By sitting up too straight too soon, the medication wasn’t being evenly distributed where it needed to go. Fascinating.
After 1/2 hour wait for the epidural to take full effect, my OB returned, said cheery things to me, and suggested that we would probably be done by dinner, and don’t you think that would be a good idea so we all could eat tonight? I agreed completely and was ready to do this!
The nurse started a pitocin drip in my arm, through the same entry point as the saline bollus, and we waited for it to start labor. A cheery hour followed, during which I felt better than I have in literally months. I was able to sit, to talk to my husband, and even read peacefully without pain. The epidural had taken away my back pain! Hurrah!
An hour later, my OB broke my water and we were off to the races. Labor started in earnest at about 10 a.m., and we were all settled in to wait. The grandparents were called, last minute discussions were had, and really we just hung out and watched the gentle rain beat against the tall narrow window in the labor room. The contractions came, but I only felt pressure, not pain, and it was amazing. I had no idea that labor could go this peacefully and well. I was not in pain. I was not panicked. My baby was not in distress (my first one had been, and I had to be given extra oxygen to help him), and all was well with the world.
Amazingly, although I did not feel the pain of contractions, I could feel new things that I had not noticed the first time around. I felt calm and confident that I could do this, despite all that came before, and despite my own fears. I felt in control. I chose my baby’s birthdate. I chose to let myself and my baby off the hook for the pain and to start us on the path to recovery. I chose to be here, now, and to have this baby exactly this way, and it was going well.
I also could feel the baby moving downward toward the birth canal as the contractions progressed. I could feel him engaged in the pelvis, and everything around there bend a little to let his skull pass through. I could feel him slipping downward, and I could feel the space under my ribs emptying as he moved. At one point, I felt his legs unfurl, and he gave me a few tiny kicks under my ribcage with an outstretched leg as if to say, “Bye, Mom! See you soon!” I could feel the top part of my belly becoming concave as he slipped further downward and got closer and closer to his birthday.
The doctor and nurses wandered in and out, but mostly they left us together in peace, as a family, waiting out the contractions and listening to the thump thump thump of the baby’s heartbeat, that familiar little tune that reassured us that all was okay. My OB was pleased with our progress, and stopped in a few times just to say hello and to tell me that everything was “textbook” and “progressing even faster than expected.” It was all good.
At 4:00 exactly, I wanted to push. I called the nurse, who called the doctor, who said, “Don’t push. He’s ready to come out. Let me put on my gown.” They called the baby nurses and everyone got ready.
Then, four contractions (3 pushes each), and the baby slipped out. Nice and easy, no screaming, no wailing, and just a little grunting to help things along. It could have been Katie’s silent birth, for that matter. All my energies went to pushing, not to vocalizing about it, and it worked perfectly. It was amazing. We were done. I was okay. Baby was okay. We were all going to be okay. The doctor had to stop for a minute to unloop the cord from around the baby’s neck, but he talked smoothly to me the whole time and didn’t even tell me about it until much later. I was calm. Daddy was calm. Daddy’s eyes were wide, but he was calm. And our baby was born.
At 4:22 p.m. on Saturday, January 13, our baby was born.