Pregnancy and birthing hold a very special place in each woman’s heart. For most, their pregnancies represent an important time in their life; a time for personal growth, a time for interpersonal growth, a time to appreciate life, a time to be amazed with our bodies and innate capabilities. Birthing, likewise, represents a hugely significant experience. Some women are ambivalent about their birthing experience – they were pregnant, it was wonderful, their baby arrived, and they are and have been raising their baby. For some, their birth experience is an empowering experience; they spent nine months nurturing a developing new life, spent countless hours, days, weeks, preparing for their birth weighing the pros and cons of where to birth, how to birth, and with whom. For others, their birth experience was a traumatizing experience; they become overwhelmed, do not make wise decisions or are not permitted to make their own decisions, things do not go as planned and they have a birth they are not proud of. One mother can have a different experience for each birth; growing and learning from one to the next; regressing and becoming disenchanted from one to the other. Some women have a combination of experiences in their birth, leaving their experience not easily classifiable on its positive or negative attributes. This would be me.
I had a somewhat uneventful pregnancy. I think I took it better than maybe some others would have. So it goes. I had been dating my then significant other for about 2 years. He left the Friday after the second trimester started. He cringed when I showed him my first ultrasound prints at 9 weeks three weeks previous. He hung up on me when I called to tell him I was pregnant 2 weeks before that. I had some funny blood work come up a couple of weeks before I took a pregnancy test. My white blood cell count was through the roof. I wasn’t sick. I was a regular social smoker; I was stressed out; three of four common reasons for leukocytosis accounted for. The fourth could have been pregnancy, so I checked. And I got my lines. I checked twice more. It was still a positive. I was pregnant.
From the beginning, I knew I was having a girl. I was so sure of it. I started thinking about names. I thought about baby clothes. I was stoked. I had my first prenatal appointment and first ultrasound in the beginning of January 2010. I was about 8 weeks along. I had a little blob show up on the screen – 2.5 cm long. I saw and heard the heartbeat. The little flutter. I cried a little. I was due August 18th. It all became very real. Before my next prenatal appointment, I was made single. I started reading and singing to my baby at night. I needed company, and this was an opportune time to meet and greet the growing wonder.
I went to my monthly visits. It was all very uneventful. I wasn’t putting on much weight, not that I needed to. I went in, was weighed, answered questions, peed in a cup, and asked some questions, mostly about what I could and could not eat. My doctor, who I love, would find the baby with the doptone and let me listen to the heartbeat. The baby was usually pretty difficult to find, moving away from the wand or kicking it. The sound of the swirling as the baby moved always cracked me up – already difficult! I still hadn’t told too many people I was expecting at this point – some of it was superstition, some worry of a miscarriage, some shame for being unwed and now single in a Catholic family. It was a secret that only my immediate family, best friend, and a few people at work knew about. I continued reading to my baby. We got through numerous Vonnegut books, a few collections of fairy tales, and The Theory of Relativity. Soon I felt kicking, and I knew that someone was listening.
At 22 weeks, I had my mid-pregnancy ultrasound. My best friend came with me. I let my former partner know, but he declined to attend. Declined to attend it a nicety. He ignored my invitation to come. My visit went normally. Then came the big moment. How was the baby? It’s a girl right? How big is she? Are all of the pieces and parts there? Is everything working? The ultrasounds technician asked if I wanted to know the sex. I asked her to let me guess if I can see it. She took the measurements, checked for all of the organs, made sure the umbilical cord had three vessels, confirmed there were two hands and two feet, looked at the brain and palate – everything looked great! I had a 97% percentile baby in my womb, although I know those numbers are skewed and irrelevant. While scanning around looking at everything, I noticed something. Oh, shit! Is that a penis?! Oh my God, there’s a penis! I was having a boy. My BFF said it looked like someone had just shot my puppy. That’s sort of how I felt. When we left, I called my mom. I asked if she knew what I was having – “A girl. Of course. A girl.” Nope.
At my next visit, I had to do the glucola test. Gross. I had gestational diabetes. For the next couple months, in addition to my monthly OB visits, I had the pleasure of visiting an endocrinologist, as well. So it goes. I had to check my sugar levels 5 times a day – upon waking, after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner, before bed. I had to inject insulin into my stomach 5 times a day. Inject. Eat. Prick. Repeat. My dosing constantly changed, along with the dosing on my thyroid medication. So it goes.
I bought a house in June. It was a mad rush to get first my bedroom ready to be occupied and then the nursery. There was lead paint to be dealt with, radiators to be painted and checked, some minor plumbing to take care of, and a hot mess of a basement to contend with, asbestos and all. We got it together, though.
I took a class on birthing between June and July (or was it May and June… I don’t remember… haha). It was through a BirthWorks program, focusing on Natural Childbirth and Birth without Fear. I had a sneaking suspicion that I would end up with a C-Section, but I appreciated the class. Both of the other girls in my class (who are now great friends… ) were planning home births so I frequently felt quite out of place, but it was a great experience and I would totally consider having a home birth for my next (hopefully there will be a next!). I just think I would need to plan something like that from the beginning, rather than making the switch in the Third Trimester. I probably could have, but I didn’t really want to. From the class, I solidified by stance on breastfeeding (I would most certainly do it… previously I was pretty ambivalent about it – I would try it, but not push it) and learned a lot more about the laboring process and some of the things I could expect.
Enter July 2010. I had a little over a month to go. I had weekly visits to the OB, weekly visits to the Endocrinologist. I had weekly biophysical profiles and non-stress tests. I asked the ultrasound technician to double check the penis situation for me each time – still there. The weeks counted down. I packed my bags for the hospital. I cleaned and got things in order. I thought about names. I worried about my dog. I patiently waited. I went to my visits. My baby was so far very healthy, getting 9’s and 10’s on his weekly tests. It was hot. I was ready for my pregnancy to be over. Every night, I turned on my air conditioner before bed and asked my baby when he would be ready. He would swirl and punch and kick, letting me know it wouldn’t be soon. We discussed my impending induction, due to the Gestational Diabetes, and the date had been set for my 40th week. I was agreeable to the induction but wanted to birth naturally if possible. At my 38th week visit, I asked my doctor to strip my membranes to see if maybe we could get things moving. I passed my mucus plug a day or two later. I was stoked, but absolutely grossed out (I texted my doula friend that I thought my vag might have had a cold). I drank raspberry leaf tea, tweaked my nipples (it’s supposed to work!), spent a lot of time with my butt in the air, squatted a lot, bounced on my yoga ball, sniffed jasmine oil (per my friend’s suggestion… she said it worked for her…) – nothing happened. My membranes were stripped again at week 39. I was about 2 cm dilated and 30% effaced at 39 weeks, which I thought could have been a good sign. At my 40 week visit, we talked about the induction. It was happening.
I saw my OB on a Monday morning. We got a 10 on our BPP and NST. We were scheduled to head to Hillcrest Hospital around 6 that evening to begin the induction process. I had a million bags packed. One for me, one for baby, the car seat, a bag of toiletries, a bag with my computer and some reading material, a little bag with some snacks and Gatorade. My sister came and picked me up and drove me in. We carried my million bags up to L & D. My aunt was unexpectedly working, and I got set up in a really nice Delivery Suite. Around 7, after I had gotten checked in and put into a hospital gown, a nurse came in to take my medical history and have me sign off on the waivers. Around 8, an OB came in to place the Cervadil, which softens the cervix. She yelled at me when I honestly answered her questions about whether I had drank, smoked, or done drugs while pregnant. No drugs, some smoking before I found out I was preggo, and mild drinking here and there (A beer or A winecooler, even once A mixed drink). After the Cervadil was placed, it was time to chill out. I watched T.V., played on FaceBook, and hung out. My dad came up to the hospital (it was his birthday) for a little while. By 9, both my sister and dad had left, and I tried to get some sleep.
Around 1:30-2:00 my water broke. The nurse didn’t believe me. She checked (“Spread your legs and cough.”) and said it hadn’t, but I knew it had. I was standing and asked for a yoga ball. I was having mild, yet painful contractions. I was on a fetal monitor, so sitting on the ball lost the signal. For a few hours, I was allowed to be monitor free and enjoyed bouncing on the ball watching the 6 am news. So it goes. They surprisingly allowed me to eat a little breakfast and take a shower. At 8 am the pitocin drip started. My doctor was there for the day. My doula friend came to the hospital. Things were going. I wasn’t allowed removing the fetal monitor after the pitocin started, except to go to the bathroom. From the bathroom, there were many “EWWWW!” and “GROSS!” and “WTF IS THAT?!” exclamations. My doctor heard a few of them and commented that those were what she liked to here; it meant things were working and moving. I was checked once after the pitocin had started – probably around 12 or 1. Not too much going on – 2 or 3 cm dilated, 50 or 60% effaced. I was having painful, yet very mild contractions that were coming with no regularity. The baby was moving. I snuck in a little walking as much as I could. I refused to wear those stupid little socks they make patients wear. I asked for endless cups of ice. I requested as many popsicles as I was allowed. I was not allowed to eat anything substantial (although I did sneak some food from my parents when they came to wait with me) in the event that I would need a C-Section. I didn’t want to choke on vomit, so I didn’t eat.
Enter early afternoon. My contractions weren’t coming any more regularly or with any more strength. I was dilated to maybe a 3. They were still operating under the assumption that my water hadn’t broken. They put on another liter of pitocin drip. Although my contractions weren’t strong and weren’t frequent, they were painful as all hell. They checked the baby – he was still there, hadn’t moved down, and was sitting at a little bit of a funny angle. He was head down but about 90º CCW to where he should have been. No biggie. I waited and waited and waited. Around mid-afternoon, I requested an epidural. The induced contractions were just too much. I was hoping to go pain medication free, but the pain won. I don’t remember what all they told me about epidurals. I already knew everything I needed to know. I let them know they didn’t have to coax me into it; I knew the risks; just do it, and make sure to give me an extra shot of lidocaine before inserting the tube. Of course, the extra lidocaine was not administered and as they injected the enormous needle into my back, I screamed a little, reminding them that I may, just may, know what I’m talking about and need some extra. Another shot administered and epidural placed. Within 15 minutes, I was in bliss. No more pain. The catheter was placed to I could see my urine leaking straight out, and I was able to get some sleep.
My doula friend stayed with me for most of the day. She went home to feed her own 3 week old daughter and provide her husband with a brief respite. It was great having her there. She had given birth at the same hospital I was at just 2 years previous, although her birth experience was somewhat of a trauma. I learned a lot from her and took that knowledge to make sure that even if I had a similar situation happen, that I wouldn’t let it be as traumatic. I viewed a C-Section as a possibility, and thusly was prepared for the worst. I have never viewed C-Sections as end-alls, and I still don’t. It’s a matter of fact. Sometimes (somewhat unfortunately, increasingly more often now) it’s necessary. You grow a baby. The baby is delivered either from you pushing or from you being cut. Either way, you have a healing process to go through, and the ease and duration of healing is all about how well you can deal with what just happened.
After some napping, I woke up to wait again. My family came up to keep me company and my doula came back to hang out. My mom was insisting that the baby needed to appear before she had to be at work at 11, but I just didn’t think that was going to happen. I ate more ice chips and another popsicle and kept Law & Order: SVU tuned in on the television. We were waiting… Around 8:30, the baby’s heart rate took a dive. After some repositioning, it was back up and he was okay. I was checked again – he was still high and turned. Back to waiting. My doula left to head home to take care of her sleepy family, and my family stayed and waited. Around 10, the same thing happened. His heart rate was down in the 70’s. Reposition, back up. They made an attempt to secure the head monitor on the baby, but he was too high up to get both probes attached so we kept relying on the belly monitor to keep an eye on him. At this point, they realized my water had broken and the membrane was no longer covering the baby’s head. Maybe if they had listened… The 24-hour clock started. Around 11, he was dipping again, and my OB was called in. Thankfully she lives just a skip away from the hospital and was there by 11:30. She asked what I wanted to do. She gave me the option of continuing and hoping that I would go into active labor or having a C-Section. I asked her to give me a realistic probability that I would require a C-Section at, say, 6 am. She said it was reasonably probable. I said let’s do it, then. So I prepped for surgery.
I removed all of my jewelry, all 13 pieces of it, washed my face, took out my contacts, and put on some makeup. I took a few pills to flush my stomach to ensure I wouldn’t aspirate some vomit should I throw up. My mom changed into some scrubs so she could come in with me. By 12:15 I was on my way into the OR. They switched up my epidural drip to the spinal. They gave me 10 cc’s of morphine (!!!) and made the first cut. I felt a lot of pressure. It was really quite strange and a very unique experience. I smelled cauterized flesh and heard the tools making their way into my viscera. I was layed up on my back, strapped to a table, arms out like I was on a crucifix. It was surreal. I felt pulling and tugging and smelled more burnt flesh. I felt my innards being plopped onto my belly. I couldn’t feel it, per se, but I felt a lot of pressure and a good deal of warmth. My mom peeked around the curtain but refused to take a photo for my morbid curiosity. A large tug later, and I saw a little human being transferred to a waiting table, being dried and cleaned, administered eye drops, and inspected. At 0:44, my baby came into the world. I saw a weiner. It was a boy. He cried, lustily, as his papers read. He was an odd purple-y color at first, softening to a creamy olive quickly. He cried. I cried. It was great. My placenta was pulled out, which I requested to be saved. It perplexed the attending OB when my OB told her it needed to be saved. She asked why. I said that I just wanted it. I could hear her frustration. It’s okay. They swabbed my uterus, cleaning it out, vacuuming the remainder that needed to leave. The baby was scored – 9 out of 10. He was docked a point for color. His second score was a 10. He looked great. The doctors worked on stitching me up. Finally I heard the staples being placed, like a staple gun going to my abdomen. I was clear. I was transferred to a wheeled gurney and made my way to recovery.
My mom was able to hold the baby before I was. She showed him to my dad and sister who were waiting in the waiting room or in the suite I would be in after recovery. I was in recovery and reunited with my new baby by 1:30, a mere 45 minutes. Not too bad. He was in great health, and I was able to receive him right away. He was 7 lbs, 6 oz; 19.25 inches with a 14.5 inch head. Good size. Not big, not too small. Petite. I coddled him, took a few pictures with him, and started to breastfeed. It was an interesting experience. He latched on perfectly and drank my colostrum. He fell asleep in my arms, and I knew I was in love. He looked just like me. His facial shape, his neat brow ridge, his lined eyes, his thin lips, his long dark hair, his olive skin tone. He was my baby. I named him Nikola Luke. Nikola because I love that name. Luke after his great grandfather, Luka. The name is phonetically pleasing.
Around 4:30 in the morning, I was moved to my suite I’d be staying in for the duration of my visit. The nurses kept asking to take the baby to the nursery so I could rest. I couldn’t rest without him. He stayed with me the whole time I was in the hospital except once or twice for 15 minutes while I showered and for his morning checkups. Finally that morning, I was allowed to eat. Only liquid foods, but I’d take it. I ordered jello and cranberry juice for breakfast, and it was great. By 9 am, I was itching to get out of bed. The nurse replied that no one got up that quickly after a C-Section. I said that I would have to be the first then. We spent the morning in the bed, feeding and taking pictures, me complaining about the catheter (I HATE CATHETERS!). Finally around 10:30, I was allowed to have the catheter removed and by 11, I was out of bed, gingerly walking around and popping percocets. The incision hurt, but it wasn’t unbearable. I knew that I wouldn’t heal if I moped in bed. So I got up. I walked. I changed out of the awful hospital gown and chain-link super period panties into some sweatpants and my own underwear (I did use the hospital’s monstrous super pads, though, which barely fit into my little VS Pink panties). I took the baby for a stroll around the maternity ward in his terrarium. I ordered more jello for lunch along with some grits and fruit. I fed my baby. I bugged the nurse nonstop for more ice and rang her on the dot every two hours for another ibuprofen and two more percocets. I took my colace so I could poop. It wasn’t that bad!
Family and friends all came to visit and bring gifts for the baby and chocolates for me. I saw a lactation consultant, who said we were doing a great job. The baby was doing well, dropping a little weight, as most C-Section babies do, but looked great. My incision looked wonderful – no infection, good color, no pulling. I relished my first shower. I hated my first trip to use the toilet. It all worked out. Finally on Saturday, on day 6 of our stay, we were allowed to leave after the baby showed he was putting on weight (60 grams to be exact, thanks to a few ounces of Similac…). The hospital set me up with a few bags of things to take home – a few boxes of nursing pads, some pads for my bed, some prepared 2 oz bottles of Similac (like 25 bottles), a manual breastpump along with the accessories from the hospital pump, a couple of packs of diapers, some dry wipes, a baggie of medication for me, more monster pads, and some slipper socks… not a bad haul. My dad took us home. First we visited my grandfather, then made our way home. My dog, Ginger, was very curious about the baby from the minute we stepped in the door, but she was great. She looked but didn’t touch (or lick). She was excited to see me, although I was sort of disenchanted with seeing her at first. We made it through our first night, Kola sleeping in his bassinet, nursing when he wanted. Ginger sleeping on the floor rather than in my bed as usual. Sunday was a day of visiting, as my family came over to play with poor, neglected Ginger and see the baby.
On the following Monday, my mom had to take us to see the baby’s pediatrician for a weight check. Looking okay. We stopped at Whole Foods on the way home to pick up lunch – Fisherman’s stew and jalapeno cornbread. Yum! As we finished lunch, we were getting ready to head to my doctor’s appointment. I went to the bathroom, and as I was sitting down, there was a massive blood spray. Out of my vagina. Everywhere. On the toilet, down the toilet, in the toilet, on the wall, on the floor, covering a quarter of my bathroom. I screamed. I started crying. WTF JUST HAPPENED? I ran upstairs to my bedroom and cleaned up, calling my OB immediately to come in and figure out WTF just went wrong. In addition to my blood show, my incision split in the center and was dripping bright red droplets on my carpet. I wrapped my stomach up, put on some sweatpants, grabbed some towels, and my mom rushed me to my OB. She did a quick pelvic and determined that the blood show was likely because there was a clot that had blocked my leaking lochia, causing a build up of liquid and pressure. Sitting down to pee must have let it pass, resulting in the blood spray. My now open incision was another matter. She took a small knife and opened the flesh that had begun to heal and cleaned and packed my wound. I cried. She hugged me and said it would be okay. I believed her and appreciated her caring demeanor. It would be another 6 weeks of weekly visits and daily packing and changing the dressing, which my mom and brother’s girlfriend graciously did for me. It never became infected, but it made healing physically that much more strenuous.
Now, seven or so months later, my physical wound is healed. I have a commendable scar and occasional mild pain at the incision site. I am emotionally healed, as well. Although a split incision did cause some momentary trauma, I felt the whole experience went according to what I was prepared for. It was a difficult healing process, but I not once worried deeply. I have an A1 immune system, which helped ward off infection while I healed. Having a baby did a good number on my psyche, and I have yet to return to any psychiatric medications and hope to ultimately not have to.
Overall, I think I had a very positive birth experience. Although unnatural in his entrance, Kola’s life has been full of as much natural parenting as I can muster. We have an excellent bond (total strangers often comment on how much my baby loves me… at church, at the store, at the coffeeshop… you can tell), we have a great breastfeeding relationship (although we do supplement with Similac, he gets about 60-75% of his milk from mama), we cosleep regularly, he gets cloth diapers and reusable nappy wipes, we’ll be planting our garden together this year. He’s such a happy and bright eyed baby. He’s hitting all of his milestones, most of them early. He’s growing at a good rate, staying steady between the 15-20th% with a ~60th% noggin (big head like his mama!). He loves his dog and his dog… puts up with him. I wouldn’t change anything about my birth story. It is mine and Nikola’s to share and cherish, ups and downs included. It has strengthened our bond and helped me to grow. I may wait on being induced next time and may even go for a homebirth, but for a first birthing experience, I rate mine overall as a positive. One and a half thumbs up!
[Addendum: I would just like to add that on my medical chart, the reasoning listed to my Cesaerean Section was not “Insufficient Pelvis” or “Failure to Progress;” it was “Fetal Bradychardia”]
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
What was your birth story like? What are you hoping for your birth story to be like? Share in the comments or On the FaceBook!