We left for the hospital just before 7:00 am, just as the snow was beginning to fall. I’d repeatedly made a joke about how even in a blizzard, we would still be able to get to the hospital, as it is so close to our house. It therefore amused me that it did, in fact, turn in to a full blown blizzard. The doula took an hour and a half to do a 20 minute drive, due to the snow and traffic. It was basically the only thing I expected about the birth to come true – I mean, of course there was a blizzard! (Sure, it had totally stopped by the time she was born the next day, but still. There was a blizzard as we headed for the hospital.)
We got to the hospital and headed for the 6th floor – the same triage I’d been checked out at two weeks earlier, after a bad fall. It was nice that because of that fall, all of our paperwork was up to date. (And I had already had the discussion with the nurse to remove my father as my primary contact, because that was hard enough when I wasn’t in labour.) They put me in triage, and the doctor confirmed that they would be inducing me as soon as a delivery room became available. Which took until noon, because every time a room would become available, some lucky woman in full blown labour would arrive and logically get the room. We walked the short hallway, David got us scones and we chatted. I had an IV put in at 8:00 am, because they were about to move me in to a delivery room and I was going to need it for the induction. Having to drag the pole around for an extra 4 hours was annoying, but what could we do?
We finally got a room – the nice room – the room with the tv and vcr player! Heh. The doctor checked me out and after 38 hours of early labour, I was completely effaced but only a single centimeter dilated. About as big of a failure as you can imagine, and it was hard to hear that so much work has resulted in what happens to most women before they even go in to labour – sometimes weeks before. I was hooked up to an IV of oxytocin around noon, and they would increase the dosage every 15 minutes for the next 5 hours. The oxytocin worked quickly, in that the contractions started in earnest. We hung out, working through poses and quietly watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on vhs.
Now, everyone knows that contractions hurt. But there is normally a break between them – a time to catch your breath. When you add the synthetic hormone, you stop getting that break, and the contractions are harder and stronger and faster than natural ones. Much worse, by the time the drug is fully ramped up. The crappy little chart below illustrates what it felt like for me, with normal contractions, and then drug supplied contractions. You’ll notice two pain lines in the latter. It really felt that way – the contraction pain, and then the constant, unceasing pain that never, ever let up. It was horrible.
We had agreed on a safe word before I was induced. I picked the word elephant. By 4:00 ish, the contractions were pretty brutal and I started saying elephant during the contractions. The nurse offered nitrous, which I used for the next couple of hours. It did, I’ll be honest, very little, but it took the edge off. And forced me to take slow deep breaths, which helped, as I was in pretty terrible pain. I tried the shower, which was basically useless and totally uncomfortable, even while sucking back the gas. It mainly just made me cold and David’s pants wet.
I guess I wasn’t clear enough with David and the doula, because I always knew that if I was induced, I would need an epidural. I knew that I did not want it for a natural labour if I could help it, but oxytocin labour isn’t normal. My yoga teacher (also a doula) told us that they are inhuman contractions, and that you almost always need an epidural to withstand the pain. And she was right. It’s not productive pain. It’s closer to torture. And they, as per my natural birth plan, kept deferring my request for pain relief, also knowing that the longer I could go without it, the more quickly I would progress. I managed until 6:30 pm when it turned out to flat out begging and pleading. I think my final argument (begging) was that there was productive pain, and there was suffering, and that this was no longer productive and could I please please please have something to make the suffering stop? In those 6 hours, I had only progressed to 5 cm.
The anesthesiologist arrived just before 7:00 pm and gave me a high dose epidural that had me able to breath and dozing within minutes. The next two hours passed in about 20 minutes for me. David and the doula dozed on the couch and the chair, respectively. I eventually woke up and was able to feel the contractions but was not pained by them. The nurse kept rolling me from one side to the other, but that was about it for movement – this was not a walking epidural.
Just before midnight, I was checked again and had only managed to progress to maybe 8 cm. The doctor added an antibiotic to the IV stand, as according to what we told them, my water had broken 48 hours earlier. (We did lie by a few hours about when my water broke. We said midnight instead of 9:30 pm because I didn’t want anyone to yell at me. Again, I don’t endorse this. I just really, really did not want to be induced.) Still, 50 hours of labour, including almost 12 with oxtocin, and I was only at 8? That’s pretty classic failure to progress. The doctor called in various OB/GYNs and none of them could tell which way the baby was facing. As in, was this back labour and that is why she was stuck? No one could tell. We later found out the J’s fontanelles had basically already closed up within a week of birth, suggesting that they weren’t open enough for her head to squish and be born vaginally. Certainly, between the hair and the fontanelles, no one could tell. As well, I’d gone from fully effaced to not effaced at all – the cervix was ‘bunched up like a turtleneck’. Probably because of her unyielding head slamming against it for twelve hours.
I dozed off between doctor’s visits and intrusive internal exams and being cathetered. Eventually, I was abruptly woken at 2:00 am by another OB/GYN who announced, without any preamble, that I would be getting a c-section. I didn’t take it well – I may have burst in to tears – and her attitude didn’t help. A trio of OB/GYNs came in and lectured me about all the terrible things that could happen to me and the baby if I didn’t immediately consent to it, up to and including fetal death. The baby had been on the monitor basically since we checked in, and there wasn’t even a heart rate deceleration at any point. The baby was fine, and they were using mean scare tactics that immediately got my back up. I asked, and eventually got, one more hour to try and progress further. I hadn’t been moving much, so for the final hour I rotated in a new position on the bed every 5 minutes. Around 3:00 am, the nicest of the OBs came back and checked me again. He looked sad to have to tell me that there was still no progress.
So I had to consent to the c-section. They came back in and when through the risk factors, which sounded EXACTLY like the risk factors they had listed when I didn’t want to have it, up to and including fetal death. I cried, and signed the consent form. They took David off to get changed in to scrubs, and the doula left, as she could not accompany us to the OR. The nurse (my least favourite of the 3 I’d had that day, and in Calgary the nurse spends her whole shift just with you, in the room) gave me this really gross anti-nausea drink, which I immediately puked back up. (I still wonder why my puke was neon yellow. Is that the colour of stomach acid? There certainly wasn’t anything else in my stomach.) She broke regulations to give me enough ice chips to wash the taste out of my mouth.
They wheeled me to the OR, flat on my back. I felt like I was in a tv show, that’s how cliched it was. The epidural had mostly worn off, but I knew I was about to get seriously medicated, so I just did my best to breathe through the pain.
They moved me on to the operating table and put nice warm contracting leg cuffs on and covered me in hot blankets, as I was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering. I’m assuming it must have been in reaction to one of the drugs, as it went on for most of the surgery. At least the spinal needle was already in – it was hard enough to stay still for that during contractions – I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been while having full body shakes. Various doctors came in – I think David told me at one point there were a dozen people in the room. However, they didn’t bring David in right away, and it made me panic. I kept asking for him, and telling them not to start until they found him. A nurse mentioned that he wasn’t in the change room, and it made me worry. He was sitting outside OR in the ‘loneliest hallway in the world’, able to hear me ask for him but not being able to come in.
They eventually brought him in and surgery started right away.
The anesthesiologist was amazing. That nice doctor blend of cocky and kind. (After giving me the epidural, he declared with perfect confidence, and accuracy, that I would not have a headache.) After I was transferred to the operating table, he started adding drugs to my IV line. Things get pretty fuzzy for me at this point, but I know that there was a much stronger epidural, morphine, plus an anti nausea drug, and when the pain killing affect of those drugs wasn’t enough, he added something else to the line. He was also the only doctor who I remember any interaction with, and he never left my head. The surgery hurt – I don’t think the morphine took – and every time I winced or moaned, he checked over the curtain to see what was going on. If it was pushing, he did nothing as apparently pushing and pressure are normal to feel, but for everything else, he reacted to keep me comfortable.
He also told David when to look over the curtain – to see our baby being born. David said he had no intention of looking, but when the doctor said to, he couldn’t help but look. Said it was gross and weird and pretty fucking amazing.
Baby J was born at 4:05 am on March 6, 2012, weighing 8 pounds, 3 ounces. 54 and a half hours after my water broke, via c-section.
I remember one doctor telling another that “she looks healthy” and I so clearly remember my voice wobbling and tearing up as I asked, “it’s a girl?” I guess they are so used to everyone knowing the sex of the baby before birth that there was no ceremony to the announcement – not even, “It’s a girl!” Just a baby being taken over to the heating table and David got to go up there and see her. At some point, they brought her over, all swaddled up, but I’ll be honest and admit I don’t really remember that part. In fact, they took her away and David followed and then I passed right out, and woke up in the recovery room. During that time, David got to hold her and feed her a bottle and cuddle.
I just remember waking up hurting and having to spend time in the recovery room trying to make small talk with the nurse. David and the doctor showed up to tell me that J had an unsurprising but very bad tongue tie so they wanted to clip it right away. I remember slurring something about David would have to be the one to sign the forms for it, because I didn’t think I could move. Apparently I was very incoherent.
Eventually I got enough feeling back in my body for them to move me to a room. Luckily, it was a private room (which only costs $40 a night and was worth every penny) because I had got feeling back in my body and the morphine had NOT given me the promised 12 hours of pain relief because I cried out every time we crossed a door jam and then screamed in agony as the nurses moved me in to the bed. When asked about what level of pain it was out of 10? It was 10. It actually hurt worse than anything else that had happened over the last 3 days. They must have given me something, because by the time David brought in our daughter, I can remember something other than agony, but I’ll be honest. It’s all very fuzzy. And I may have been weeping. And it was 5:00 am after days of labour – with the last solid sleep being four days earlier.
She was small and red and angry and I had no idea what to do. I think I tried to feed her and she latched on pretty well, and I remember that David went home around 7:30 am to get some sleep and I must have passed out eventually, because the next day was simply a blur of feedings and diaper changes and endless, ENDLESS sitting around the hospital bored out of my mind, wanting to go home, and sobbing. I’ll talk about that next, this is long enough already.