Chapter 1: I Am Born
So, your mom is the kind of person who knows that "Chapter 1: I Am Born" is the beginning of David Copperfield, and thus can't help but start out this letter, about your birth, with that quote. However, to be brutally honest, this isn't because I've ever read David Copperfield--it's because it's in Gone With the Wind. Just so we've got that out of the way.
This is your birth story. It may be something you never want to know, but it is something I don't want to forget, so I'm going to write it all down anyway. I smile to picture your young adult face reading this, grimacing at the level of detail you never needed. Suck it up, kid--you only have to read about it. I was there. Well, to be fair, you were there, too, but I'm pretty sure it was easier on you than it was on me.
This begins with the storm. On Friday night, June 29, we had a huge thunder/lightening/wind/rain storm. The biggest one I've ever seen. Your dad and your Grandma Penny and I stood at the windows and watched it for at least half an hour. It was exceptional. Sheet lightening, huge bolts going horizontal across the sky, wind gusts up to 75mph, the works. So, of course, we all made lots of jokes about how I was going to go into labor (you were already four days late) and we wouldn't be able to get to the hospital in time. We kept saying that since your dad is a doctor and Grandma Penny has helped birth calves before, we'd be fine. In reality, though, I was a little bit nervous that our jokes would come true and I would go into labor with you before the storm was over. I was glad to see it start to die down.
But, of course, the electricity went out. Not just at our house, it turns out--at over a million people's houses. The storm was really broad and there was a ton of damage. We didn't know this when we went to bed--we thought the power would be back on by morning and we'd just be in for an overly warm night. We were so, so wrong.
At about 5 AM on Saturday morning I woke up with contractions. The power was still off. At first, I didn't think a whole lot about it--I'd had a few contractions most mornings for a few days and they never amounted to much. When they hadn't died down by about 7:30, though, I started tracking them on my phone and woke up your dad to tell him to take a shower, as I thought this might actually be labor.
Your dad and Grandma Penny and I hung out for several hours before we went to the hospital, timing the contractions until they were less than five minutes apart for an hour. They weren't too bad--definitely distinct, but not too painful. I felt pretty confident that even though I'd had only a few hours sleep on Friday night (the power going out left things pretty hot and uncomfortable), I was totally going to be able to handle this labor thing.
That's about the point where things started to get rough. When we arrived at the hospital, I assumed I would be admitted. However, after being examined by a very rude triage nurse and then the on-call midwife, I was told that my contractions weren't strong enough yet, I was still only 2cm dilated and 70% effaced, and I should go home. I felt terrible. I felt like a hypochondriac who was making up her labor, and nobody with whom I dealt at the hospital did anything to make that feeling any better. It SUCKED. I was furious when we left. Since we knew the power was still out at our rapidly-overheating house (the temperature was about 100 degrees), we decided to go out to lunch and see if things got any more dramatic. I continued to have contractions through lunch, but they didn't ramp up much, so I wasn't sure if I was actually going to go into real labor or not. We headed home.
By about 5 or 6 PM, though, it was clear that things were progressing. The contractions stayed five minutes or so apart, but got a lot stronger and more painful. I took a cool bath, which helped. Then I got nauseated, and eventually started throwing up. I called the midwife and she said to come back to the hospital.
By the time I we got back to the hospital, I was feeling pretty bad. The contractions were bearable, but increasingly intense, and I was throwing up quite a bit. The midwife checked again and I was dilated to 5cm and 90%+ effaced. Go time! They checked us in at around 8 PM.
The next two hours were long and painful. The contractions came faster and harder, and I threw up a lot more. I got into the tub and that helped for a while, but after a while it started to get obvious that I was already too tired and wound up too tight to deal with increased contractions and then transition and pushing without an epidural. I went back and forth about it for quite a while, but by 10 PM or so, I was ready. (Later, your dad told me that if I had continued to refuse the epidural, either he or Grandma Penny would have tried to overrule me, as it was obvious I wasn't going to make it through labor without it.) The midwife checked me again and found that I was at 8cm and nearly 100% effaced, and we ordered the epidural.
While we were waiting for the anesthesiologist to show up, the nurse hooked me up to an IV and started giving me fluids and Zofran for my nausea. I had initially resisted this idea because I didn't want to be tied down to the IV, but it turned out that it was a really good move--the Zofran didn't help the throwing up much, but a few hours later, when several bags of fluids still hadn't produced much of anything from my catheter, it became obvious just how dehydrated I had been.
Getting the epidural was really tough. You have to bend over at the waist, which was excruciating even when I wasn't contracting, and be totally still while the anesthesiologist places it. I am not sure how I did it. I leaned all the way over, with a nurse holding one of my arms and Mark holding the other, and just sort of tried to be unconscious. The anesthesiologist was telling me what was going on, when I would feel the first needle, then the second, and so on, but I didn't really hear or understand him. It was over faster than I had expected, and took effect faster, too. Within a few minutes, the contractions started getting more bearable, and within a half an hour or so, I was barely registering them.
From there, things get a little bit hazy for a while. I know we were in the room, Mark sleeping intermittently, for several hours. My midwife had two other women laboring at the same time, and they were progressing faster than I was, so she barely checked in. Even nurses didn't seem to come by too often. The midwife explained to me that because of the epidural, I could "labor down" meaning wait for quite a while to push. My water hadn't broken yet, either, so we were waiting for that to happen. It was a long holding pattern. I wasn't in pain anymore, but I couldn't sleep, either, and apparently I talked a lot. Mark told me at some point that I had to be the only person on Earth that was made chatty and animated by opiates.
At around midnight or 12:30, the midwife came back in and suggested breaking my water to get things going a little bit faster. I agreed, mostly because I was bored. I had started noticing, by this time, that the mild numbness in my lower body had increased and become, in my left leg, complete numbness. I couldn't even keep my leg on the bed, it kept flopping off the side. This worried me a little bit, as I was vaguely aware that having no lower body control was going to severely limit the positions in which I could push. It should have worried me more.
The next couple of hours were pretty slow. I was told to push my call button if I started to feel pressure. I felt no pressure. I pretty much felt nothing. I started to wonder if anything was ever going to happen. Around 3 AM, a nurse came in and checked me again, and even though I hadn't felt it, she said I was ready to start pushing. As the other two patients had delivered, the midwife came back at that point, and we were ready to start. I really thought it would just take a few minutes, maybe 30 at most. After all, I wasn't in any pain, so how hard could it be?
That was the beginning of the worst part. After the first few pushes, it became clear, at least to me, that things weren't going to go well. I couldn't feel anything below the waist, so I had no idea if I was pushing correctly. I was instructed, over and over, to push "towards your bottom." But I couldn't feel my bottom, so it was a little bit like trying to find a light switch in a very dark room. I fumbled around. Still, I pushed as hard as I could manage, and though I couldn't feel a thing in any of the relevant areas, it didn't take long for the non-relevant bits to start hurting, particularly my face. To top things off, I continued to throw up.
I pushed and pushed and pushed. It was endless, and it was painful, even though it took at least an hour before I started to be able to feel it below the waist. I'm not completely sure how the second hour went, but by the end of it, the nurse and midwife had left for a brief moment, for reasons I didn't think to wonder about at the time. I realize, now, that they were calling the on-call back-up doctor, as they'd been convinced that I wasn't going to be able to deliver without an intervention.
When they came back, the midwife explained that she was concerned about how long it was taking and had called the back-up doctor, who might consider options including forceps or a vacuum. I don't know if I lost it only in my head at that point, or if it actually came out of my mouth, but I was furious. The single out-of-the-ordinary thing on my birth plan was that I did NOT want forceps or a vacuum to be utilized in my delivery. I even wrote on the plan that I understood that intervention might become necessary, and if it did, I wanted a c-section, not a forceps/vacuum delivery. The midwife went on to explain that the on-call doctor was in another procedure, so it would be a while before he could join us.
I don't think I flipped out, but I did tell the midwife, clearly, that I would not consent to forceps or a vacuum, and I did not want a c-section. I was starting to be able to feel more, and I wanted to keep pushing. She didn't seem all that convinced, but didn't see any harm in my continuing to try until the doctor came.
And I pushed for another 30 or 40 minutes, with increasing intensity. I kind of went to another place, where I couldn't hear or see much, and pushed over and over again. I didn't stop at the end of the 10-count every time, or stop with 3 pushes per contraction. All I could think of was every story I've ever heard about a labor that stalls after many, many hours and ends up in an exhaustion c-section. Though I was pretty sure I was breaking blood vessels in my eyes pushing, and I couldn't catch my breath in between pushes anymore, I pushed. And I think maybe I prayed.
Then the midwife stopped me and told me that your heart rate was starting to decel, and that if I was going to birth vaginally, it had to happen immediately. I pushed another round. By this time, even though my legs were still completely numb, I could feel the pushing. I could more than feel it, I thought I was probably being torn in half. A few pushes later, the midwife told me she had to cut an episiotomy so that you could get out. I was barely cognizant of what was going on--all I could think about was that I had to push. I had to get you out. I told her to cut it. I don't know how long it took. I felt it, but it didn't hurt the way I'm sure it would have without the epidural. Then, with the next round of pushing, all at once, it was over. You were out.
The first few minutes of your life, I was consumed by worry that you were not OK. You had swallowed a lot of fluid and you didn't cry much, if at all. I couldn't see the table where you were, since it was surrounded by nurses, and I asked everyone in the room, over and over again, if you were okay. They kept telling me you were, but I thought they were lying. Turns out they weren't--they did have to take you to the nursery for a while and get you checked out, but by a couple of hours after your birth you were declared fit. There were a few more issues later, mostly due to the bruising your labor caused and subsequent jaundice, but that's all another story.