I must preface this by stating, it is not an uplifting tale of birth. I know in our culture we hear more birth horror stories, and it is not my intention to perpetuate that. This is the beginning of my birth experiences, and although I take credit for my missteps, I hope 1-it can serve to help get you thinking about your birth options, and 2-you will read my other experiences of birth to see the evolution which came through my personal education and faith.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I fit the typical American mom-to-be stereotype. My older sister was three months behind me pregnant with her first, and she was planning a homebirth with a midwife. Not me, I wanted a hospital birth, and the cherry on top was, I chose a female obstetrician just knowing she would "get me."
My appointments were a lot of waiting, waiting, waiting for her to show up, and then her rushing me out in important-doctor fashion. One time I was made to wait so long, naked bottom on the papered-table (in a very hot, windowless room) that I sweated through the paper -- how terrible was that? But I was a good girl, and I did as I was told. "Take off your pants and sit here, she will be here soon." How humiliating. (Please, if it is not too late for you, keep your pants on until you practitioner arrives, and just sit in the chair while you wait -- it's allowed!).
I had an appointment on my due date. As my doctor was checking on me and my baby, she asked, "Do you want to get this over with?" pregnant pause, "Because I think he is getting big." I have said it before, but no one wants a big baby, right? Pregnant women live in fear of "the big baby." (There is evidence that the size of the baby isn't as important as the position of the baby, but she didn't say anything about that.) As a good girl, I had read "What to Expect When You Are Expecting," cover to cover, and in there it said doctors only induce when it is medically necessary -- since my doctor said it, I assumed it was medically necessary. We booked a date. (I didn't know at the time, but induction of a woman who has never had a baby versus a woman who has increases the probability of cesarean birth to 50%!).
A phrase to describe an induction is "Hurry up -- to wait." You hurry to the hospital (we had to be there at 6 am), to wait for the paperwork. You hurry up to get your gown on, to wait in bed for the staff. You hurry up to get your IV placement, to wait on your doctor's orders. You hurry up your family and friends, to wait, wait, wait for something to happen. Hurry up the labor process -- to get your body to produce a baby who wasn't really to be produced.
An epidural had been in my plans all along; I didn't do much preparing for how to cope with labor, or even to understand the process of labor. To this point I had: IV, monitors on belly, cervical ripener (probably Cervidil as it was internally placed and much like a tampon), Pitocin, me stuck in bed in a hospital gown. Somewhere around 3:00, after my OB stopped by on her lunch to break my water, I asked if I could have my epidural. The nurse checked the doctor's orders and said nope, not until I was 7 centimeters (I was only 5). She did give me half a dose of Stadol -- that made me swimmy and dizzy, yet did nothing for my pain. When I asked again for an epidural, I was found to be at 7, and I signed the consents -- yet no one ever came. The anesthesiologist was in a surgery. I am an emetophobe -- that means, I have an irrational fear of throwing up. As I was breathing to cope with the intensities of a Pitocin induction, I just kept thinking I didn't want to vomit. I believe that is what got me through the rest of labor -- me breathing deeply and fully during each contraction to avoid being sick.
My nurse checked me every 5 minutes, it seemed. She constantly had her fingers in there, seeing to some such business. I didn't realize that wasn't normal (and even dangerous, as my water had been broken since about 1). I began to push with her instruction -- 3 counts to 10 during each contraction. At some point she decided it was time to call the doctor, and that meant something to me -- progress! Our wait will soon be over! But when the doctor checked me, she turned to the nurse to ask, "Why did you call me? She's not ready yet." My heart hit the floor.
All day long, even without an epidural, I stayed in bed. I thought that was were I belonged. I assumed if I needed to be anywhere else or do anything else, they would tell me -- I just waited for instruction. Surprise: no instruction ever came. My nurse could see I needed to empty my bladder to make more room for the baby, and instead of having me use the toilet, she catheterized me! Yep, no anesthetic or anything, and I just thought it was normal. (I ended up with a terrible bladder infection after being discharged from the hospital wherein the lining of my bladder was sloughing off into my urine.)
After (purple) pushing for almost 3 hours flat on my back, my doctor showed up again. It was 10 at night. She had me push a couple of times, and then she decided to Mighty Vac my baby out. I imagined she was thinking, 'Hey, it's late, I would like to get home to my family, let's get this over with.' She had to cut a deep episiotomy to fit the vacuum in and get it to his head. Once placed, the nurse used a hand pump to create the proper pressure, and my doctor started pulling down on the vacuum attached to my baby's head. After about 4 seconds, the vacuum popped off his head, blood sprayed everywhere, and we were back at square one. My doctor started to place the vacuum again. She brought his head out, dropped the vacuum off, and then began pulling my baby's head with extreme force to work his shoulders out (we have this all on video; my little brother and sister were there, along with my mom and best friend -- my brother thought the doctor was going to pull the baby's head off). Jacob was finally born at 10:15 pm, much to everyone's relief, and he was entirely intact.
They took him to the warmer to check him out, clean him off, weigh him, measure him, diaper him, give him some blow-by oxygen, dress him, swaddle him, and then finally bring him to me. All this time I was just watching from the bed, thinking, this is how we have babies. We come to be induced, we stay in bed all day, we push on our backs for three hours, we have the doctor pull the baby out with a vacuum, we watch for 15 minutes as the baby is taken care of. When he was finally brought to me, it was right when my doctor began to stitch me back together after a 3rd degree episiotomy/tear...I was in so much pain, I couldn't even hold him a minute before passing him to my husband.
He was 9 pounds, 8 ounces -- yes big, but bigger than I could handle on my own? No one could say. We had a good first night, I thought. We were able to room-in, and he seemed to be nursing. I was happy, if not super sore and unable to walk or sit comfortably. I had Vicodin for my pain, and I was still swirling from the experience of his birth. But my baby was healthy and I was healthy, right?
Almost 24 hours after Jacob's birth, the nurses had him in the nursery checking his glucose levels. While there, he seemed to vomit stomach bile. To me, I didn't realize why this was so dangerous. They were worried about a bowel obstruction or something worse. It was late at night, and suddenly they were admitting him to the NICU, sending him out into the halls of the regular hospital in his bassinette to radiology for a barium bottle and a series of X-rays...all without a parent present. 24 hours after his birth, me still reeling physically and emotionally, and suddenly my baby is sick and no one could tell us if he would even live! There was talk of life-flighting him to Oakland Children's Hospital if they couldn't get a hold on what was wrong. But what was wrong? No one knew. His barium tests came back normal. An IV line was started and antibiotics were given to him. The neonatologists were nice and they tried their best, but we were along for the ride.
That first night, of course I couldn't sleep. He wasn't with me and something felt very wrong. Dads weren't allowed to stay, and the other mother in my room, her baby cried all night -- my arms and breasts ached, and I wanted to tell her, "Let me take him for you," but who was I -- timid, American, good girl -- that was probably frowned upon and I didn't want to upset anyone.
I padded to the NICU three or four times that night to visit my baby. He was naked but for a diaper, with different wires and bands on his little body. He had a fever, and his cheeks were red, his breathing fast, and his eyes closed. He looked so fragile to me, and alone. Isolated. Was he missing me? Did he know we weren't together? He looked terrifyingly ill to me.
The next morning we got our first report from the neonatologist: they didn't know what was wrong, but they were going to continue with the IV antibiotics and see if there was improvement. While he was being admitted, I was being discharged. With no place to stay, I had to go home. But I vowed to come back every three hours once they let me nurse him again, and I started at 9 that night.
I would come, sit in a wooden (hard!) rocking chair, and nurse him while he was connected to his wires and IV tube. I skipped the midnight and 3 am feeds to pump from home instead. But I was back, bright and early at 6 to see him again. I usually stayed for an hour, to nurse him until he was sleeping. I would rush home to try and heal myself with sitz baths, heat lamps, drugs, and rest. By the third day or so his issue was being called sepsis, and he was responding to the antibiotics (I was GBS-; in my opinion, this came from the extended time my water was broken coupled with the multitude of vaginal exams my nurse performed). He was to stay for two weeks.
I was still physically torn and raw from the birth, and sitting to be with my baby didn't help. Running back and forth and driving myself all over town didn't help either. Emotionally, though, things got "weird." I started to feel almost ashamed about not being with my baby. When I pulled up to my house, I sat in the car to scout out the area and ensure none of my neighbors were around -- it seemed to me the worst, most humiliating thing to be spotted without my baby and then have to answer questions about where he was. Somehow I felt a proper mother wouldn't have let this happen.
Having a baby in the NICU is this foreign, in-between place. Yes, he is my baby, but he doesn't feel like my baby, he feels like hospital property. I am grateful for the nurses there, but they also had a way of adding to my feelings of inadequacy. One night I rushed over to make our 9 pm feed, and Jacob was sound asleep in his isolette. "My baby was crying, so I fed him some formula; I didn't want to make him wait." Your baby? He isn't your baby. You don't wear the signs and badges of his growth and birth, I do. You don't leak milk for him when he cries, I do. You don't ache for him in your arms when you are away from this hospital, I do. That was a devastating night. To know he is there without me more than he is with me was terrible reality enough. To know the symbolic measure of my love and care for him while we were apart -- the precious few drops of milk I could bring him -- were not even needed or being used, was a double serving of heart-break and mother-guilt rolled up in one.
I grew strong in ways a mother shouldn't have to with her week-old baby. One night I walked in to see part of his head shaved. They needed a new IV site, and this was where they were going. I walked over to see him, and a nurse said, "We need to place this IV; you can leave, or you can help us hold him still." I didn't want to leave him, and in some place, I needed to show the nurses how "tough" I was -- I could do this, I wasn't a weak, crying mother who couldn't bear to watch him endure pain. So I forcefully held his legs down while two other nurses worked to give him a new IV line. My heart hardened to those sweet baby cries. The worst thing I could do was show emotion or weakness to these nurses, and I tried to block it out, telling myself it was better that I was here with him no matter the circumstances versus he being alone.
I am convinced every cell of my body was feeling the loss of him, while every cell of his body was feeling the loss of me. We grew together for weeks and months, it is ludicrous and against nature to think we could suddenly be thriving apart from one another. I was at a breastfeeding conference once when Diane Wiessinger asked how a gorilla would react if her baby was taken from her by the keepers, what would she do? It is not hard to envision -- she would do whatever she could until she had her baby back, and she would be a crazed mama monkey until that time. Why do we think, with our higher mammal brains and our "understanding" that this does not happen on some level in our bodies, if not our minds? We are not meant to be away from our babies immediately following birth: we are biologically sequenced to be together.
After two weeks apart, we finally were together, with only three small dots to mark our struggles -- IV sites (two on his head, one on his hand). At my six week check-up (without my baby because I did not to waste my doctor's time), she burned some extra tissue off with silver nitrate and said, "The miracle of birth is epidurals!" Through gritted teeth (that stuff hurts!) and perhaps some bitterness I replied back, "I didn't get an epidural, remember?!" That was when it hit me: Who was this woman, and why did I think we had anything in common? A learning experience indeed. Three months later my sister had her first baby with a midwife, and I was in love. I knew I would never choose to return to an OB. So I can be grateful now for the knowledge that came with this birth -- it wasn't just my son who was born that day, I was also born as his mother, and the mother of my future babies.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)