Thursday, March 3, 2011
Jumping Right In - My First Birth
I don't think I need to start with an introduction. It doesn't matter that much who I am. I will say up front that I don't have any specific credentials - I'm not a lactation consultant, a doula, a midwife, a licensed medical practitioner. I'm not a birthing coach or a childbirth class teacher. I'm not a licensed anything, really. But I am a mom, and I've done this pregnancy and childbirth thing twice, and I'm now pregnant with my third. And I've done a lot of reading, and I've done a lot of self-educating. And what I've found is, I'm passionate. I'm passionate about passing along information about childbirth, about breastfeeding, about what goes on in hospitals that can throw you off track, and about what every woman should know before giving birth, whatever her proclivities, inclincations, or beliefs. I don't so much care what you choose to do. I just care that you make an informed choice.
Okay, that's out of the way. I say right up there in my blog description that I've had a c-section. So let's start there, with the story of my first son's birth, slightly abbreviated, but not leaving out anything important. I’m also going to try to write this as neutrally as possible, even though there are a lot of emotions attached to this story, which I’m sure will come through no matter how hard I try. I think that’s okay. Those strong emotions pretty much changed my life.
When I was pregnant with son #1 (who is now four years old), I was 24 years old, had been married for four years, and was pretty sure I had this pregnancy thing under control. I went to all my prenatal appointments, thought I had taken charge of my body, and thought I had made all the important decisions, like what hospital to go to, how I was going to feed the baby (breast-feeding, because “breast is best”) who would come with me, and whether or not I would want pain relief (I did!). I figured, beyond that, the doctors and nurses in the hospital would know better than I what to do, and I trusted the OBs in the practice I’d chosen, and I trusted the hospital staff.
My son was due October 20, 2006, which was a Friday. That night, just after midnight, I entered the early stages of labor. I lost my mucus plug and started having contractions. We waited about two hours, called the OB on call, and were told to come on in. I spent four hours on the L&D floor, walking around, trying to move things along, only to find, at 6:00 A.M., that I hadn’t dilated at all. They sent us home and told us to come back when the contractions were more painful and closer together. We dutifully followed directions.
As a side note, we had bought a car that evening, not long before I went into labor. We had to pick it up Saturday morning, so we went ahead and did that. I don’t think the salesman had a very good sense of what it meant that I was in labor. He just went on with his spiel, for what felt like hours, giving us a tour of the facility, showing us everything we could possibly want to know about our new Toyota Rav4, and generally doing his salesman thing. I really wanted to go home.
Anyway. We went home. I had no idea what to do with myself. My husband called his parents in Israel. Their neighbor is a midwife, and she got on the phone and told my husband to tell me to take a hot shower. Now that was a great suggestion. The shower felt so good, and it sped up my contractions because I was standing up. Eventually, I got out of the shower, and the contractions slowed down, but it had been another 10 hours or so, and we decided it was time to return to the hospital. This was about 4:00-ish on Saturday afternoon.
I had dilated to a whopping 2cm by then, so they let us stay, since we were now sure I was in active labor. I had had quite enough of this labor thing by then, and couldn't believe the long road I still had ahead of me, with eight centimeters to go! I requested pain relief, but I wasn’t quite ready for the epidural, so I got a narcotic cocktail instead. That lasted about 90 minutes, during which I was high and having the weirdest visions/dreams. I really had no idea what was going on, how much time was passing, or who was in and out of the room.
That wore off, and I labored some more, mostly lying on the bed. My mom was there with me, along with my husband. My mom had given birth to both me and my brother totally naturally, drug-free, and she said I should walk around. But I didn’t feel like it. I was tired, and it was hurting, and lying down was so much easier. Besides, my mom was a crazy natural-birther. I wasn’t crazy like that. Our (my husband’s and my) motto at the time was, “There’s pain. There’s pain relief. This isn’t a test anyone should fail,” which is a quote from one of our favorite shows, “Coupling,” uttered by a father-to-be about whether he thought his girlfriend should have pain relief during labor.
By the time I reached 4cm, I wanted the epidural. It didn’t go very well and actually took two attempts before the anesthetic took hold, but it did its job at that point. I was then stuck in the bed whether I wanted to be or not, but I did enjoy the break from the pain. My water broke at around 5cm, just as the OB was getting ready to break the bag of waters manually.
Much of the next several hours is kind of an epidural haze. They started Pitocin at around 7cm, hoping to move things along. By 5:00 A.M. Sunday morning, I had finally fully dilated, and they started coaching me on pushing. “Here comes a contraction. Take a breath. Hold. Push. 1, 2, 3…10. And breathe. Hold. Push 1, 2, 3…” Etc. They told me my pushing technique was good. But the baby wouldn't budge. It seemed he was occiput posterior (OP), which means the top of his head was toward my back, instead of the more comfortable occiput anterior (OA), where the top of the head is toward the mother’s stomach – the baby comes out more easily if he is face-down during delivery. Many babies will turn in the birth canal as they come out, but mine didn’t want to. It turned out he also had a very big head. I’m making a digression for the point of education. Basically, the head needs to travel through the cervix and under the pelvic bone, which requires the neck to bend. This is accomplished more easily if the baby is OA, although being OP does not automatically make a vaginal delivery impossible.
What I’m getting at here is, after two hours of pushing, he had not moved at all. He was still up in the cervix, with no apparent desire to come out and see the world. My OB told me that I could keep pushing if I wanted, but he wasn’t making any progress, and it might be time to consider a c-section. She was not at all confident that this baby was coming out the more natural way. She stressed that he was not in distress – his heart rate was fine, he was holding up very well, and there was no immediate medical danger to the baby, or really to me, if I wanted to keep trying. However, I was feeling a great deal of pain despite the epidural, I was completely exhausted, and I just wanted this baby out. So my husband and I very quickly decided to go ahead and have the c-section.
They whisked me away to the operating room, where I was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of new people, including an incredibly sweet and caring anesthesiologist who held my hand and looked into my eyes and helped me stay calm during the procedure. My husband took a few minutes to get there, because he had to put on a sterile gown, gloves, hat, mask, etc., and I remember being terribly frightened and looking around wildly for him. I needed him there beside me. A c-section had been my greatest childbirth fear, and now here I was having to face it.
I was aware of some pressure in my abdomen, then a baby’s cry, and my husband holding him. I looked for him and saw my beautiful son. He was 9lbs., 1oz., and 20 inches. He was healthy and strong. And he had a big head, as advertised. And I couldn't even hold him, because I was still strapped down on the table being stitched up.
I’m going to stop here for now. I want to talk in more detail about my hospital stay after his birth, because what happened in the first three weeks after his birth has a lot of bearing on the following 26 months of my life and why I’m sitting here writing this story again. I’ve told it and written it down several times over the years, and the telling changes with every passing year, partly because of fading memory and partly because of my changing attitude toward my experience.
Please stay tuned for the next four days of my son’s life, in which he thrived and I floundered. Don’t worry, though, I’ll spoil the ending. Everyone came out all right.