I never wrote down June’s birth story, which is ironic considering I write down everything, and now I regret it. I remember the broad outline of what happened — the 18 hours of hell with no epidural capped by 30 minutes of pushing — but the finer details — the funny moments, the minutiae, weird things that were said, the flavor of the two pints of ice cream that were consumed by me and Jake immediately afterward — are forgotten.
So pour yourself a white wine spritzer because I’m writing down Katie’s birth story. I want to have a record of it. I want to give her a record of it. I want to give you an excuse to waste a few more minutes at work.
Birth stories are funny. They seem so private and personal — which is why I think I opted not to share June’s birth story on the blog — yet every single mom on the planet has one so they’re not really private and personal at all. It’s a universal experience shared by every mom, which I guess is why so many women feel compelled to voice theirs in a public way. It’s our own Desert Storm.
As many of you know, Katie Bea was a week late in coming. My doctors didn’t want me to let her hang out in utero longer than 41 weeks, which they say isn’t good for the baby because anytime after 40-41 weeks the placenta starts to break down. So I had them schedule me for an induction as soon as there was an opening, which turned out to be a week and half after her due date.
Apparently, there’s a big rush for inductions prior to the holidays so getting a slot was tricky. They had to “pencil me in,” as it were, to have my baby. It’s like trying to schedule a bikini wax just before Thanksgiving — moms want to be home feeling fresh with the wee one by the time the in-laws arrive in time for turkey. Personally, I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about being induced, born of pure ignorance, I admit. I’ve heard some women say they’re horrible — forced labor is way more traumatic, they say, while other women can’t recommend them enough (“It’s like getting a really painful Brazilian. It hurts like hell for awhile and then you’re outta there. Boom. You can be at Costco shopping for salmon by 6.”) As for me, I would have much preferred the baby come naturally, but I was also kind of over it. I was waddling, not walking. None of my stretchy pants fit anymore. I was swollen, agitated, I was sick of wearing Jake’s army green fleece everywhere (it was the only coat that fit). I was ready to have my body back, my brain back. Most of all, I couldn’t wait to meet her! And the whole shriveling placenta thing scared me.
I didn’t even know the proper word for being induced before going in for my own. I was walking around telling my friends I was scheduled for “an inducement” in the week running up to the actual appointment. It was only when I was in the stirrups having my cervix checked I heard the doctor say “induction” that I realized I’d sounded like a complete nimrod for the past week and a half. Like pronouncing “paradigm” as “para-digg-um.” Nice one. So to clarify, it’s an “induction,” not an “inducement” for all you delivery ignoramuses like me out there.
I was super nervous and anxious beforehand. Call me crazy, but having a baby is just not very fun, I don’t care what people say. I don’t want to wear a wreath of flowers in my hair while I deliver. I don’t want a doula or listen to Tibetan chants or have someone read sweet poetry while I’m groaning like a feral animal. I just want it over with with minimal pain and trauma and I want to look forward to a bacon double cheeseburger at the end. Is that so wrong? To be thinking about Hardees while trying to get through labor? (And I never think about Hardees.)
Anyway, the doctor gave me something to kickstart the process. For about four hours, nothing much happened. Jake and I spent the time watching incredibly bad TV in the delivery suite. (Seriously, do they make a reality show about EVERYTHING now? Women Cops of Dallas? Say wha–? No. Why?) The doctor — a poker faced Russian man with the personality of a lamppost — popped in periodically to check me but I was only 3 centimeters dilated even though contractions were starting to come on fast and strong. This was the same thing that happened when I delivered June — my contractions came on fast and furious — 3 to 4 minutes apart almost immediately for nearly 18 hours — but my cervix had battened down and was preparing for a nuclear winter; it refused to open.
One of my doctors told me after the birth of June this type of thing is common among athletes, runners, people who are physically fit (for those of you just tuning in, I teach fitness in my spare time and have a really ripped cervix, apparently). It’s like our pelvic floor muscles are so trained to constrict and lift like a Boa around a mouse that it’s physically impossible for us to relax down there. Our bodies just don’t know how to do that. We’re unconsciously kegeling at all times. Like right now. I’m totally kegeling and not even aware of it. I can’t stop! Someone make it stop!) It was the case for me with June and it was looking like it was going to be a repeat experience with Katie: all contractions, no dilation, pure hell. Jake looked at me like, Honey, I wish I would have brought you a swatch of leather to chew. It’s going to be a long day.
At some point during all this, the nurses noticed I was running a fever of 100.4. Which is odd because I never run fevers. I haven’t had a fever since toddlerhood. I think it must have been brought on by the induction. The nurses became concerned; the fever passed on quickly to the baby, which affected her heart rate. She was becoming stressed. They immediately hooked me to antibiotics to knock it out but the baby’s heart rate started to drop.
Around this time, I received an epidural which took the edge off those horrible contractions. I don’t know about other women, but when I’m in excruciating pain, the only way I know how to deal with it is to cry. I don’t really wail or groan or scream, the tears just roll down my face and don’t stop coming. The pain — even with the epidural — radiated out from my womb, crawling down my numbing legs, up through my chest and out the top of my head. I couldn’t even make a sound, the pain was so white hot. All I could do was claw Jake’s hand and weep uncontrollably.
I was laboring intensely but my cervix was only 4 centimeters. The Russian lamppost broke my water. Right afterward, little Katie went number two, covering herself in meconium. Her heart rate really started to drop and the doctor said it was too much stress on the baby and that if it continued to drop, he was going to insist on a C-section.
I guess it was because I was already in excruciating labor and high duress, but when he told me that, I just lost it. Not that I have anything against C sections — women have them everyday, plenty of women even prefer them to vaginal deliveries, they save lives — but it’s a major surgery I was not emotionally or mentally prepared for particularly as my insides were being turned inside out at that precise moment. I couldn’t control myself (actually, ‘control’ went out the window long before). I just cried and cried and clung to Jake.
The doctor pointed out that I was still only 4 cm dilated and it could be hours before I was ready to deliver. The baby couldn’t wait that long. But he saw how upset I was and told me he would monitor her heart rate in the hope I’d dilate. If it stabilized, we could buy more time. If it continued to drop, he would insist on a C-section.
So we waited, praying my cervix would release it’s Vader grip. I was laboring so hard I started to wonder if the epidural had failed to take. I didn’t know how I could endure the pain for the next who knows how many hours. But they checked my cervix again and I had dilated to 9 cm. It was time to push! I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. An army of nurses and the doctor rushed in and told me I didn’t have any time to spare. If I couldn’t push her out in about 20 minutes, they’d have to wheel me into surgery because the act of pushing is another stressor on the baby’s heart.
I was so glad to have Jake by my side. He’s my rock in every situation and in delivery, he was a rock star. He gripped my hand and coached me through it, telling me to push harder, push harder, which I thought was strange because I was pushing as hard as I could. At one point he got all military on me — “Come on, babe! You can do it! You must push harder! You have to!” But he told me later it was because he was watching the nurse watching the monitor and everyone in the room but me (I was preoccupied, go figure) heard the baby’s heart rate beep becoming slower and slower. The nurse yelled, “Doctor!” to convey things were not looking good. The doctor replied, “I know, I know!” Then he looked at me all stony and Soviet like and said, “You don’t understand. You must push harder. If you don’t, we must go into surgery immediately.”
Well, I summoned my inner Tom Brady. I locked down, squeezed my eyes shut and pushed harder than I physically thought possible, with both Jake and the doctor shouting words of encouragement. I didn’t open my eyes again until I felt a wave of relief sweep through the room. I opened my eyes and saw the doctor holding an infant covered in brown muck slumped in his hands.
“She’s out?” I asked. “That’s it? Is she really out?”
I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what had just happened. I was preparing for a long excruciating journey probably ending in a C section, but little Katie was out in 4 pushes, 8 minutes total. The entire experience took about 8 hours total.
I was delirious with joy. The relief of knowing she was here and safe and alive and that it was all over! I didn’t have to be in pain any longer! I was ecstatic. Jake and I jumped for joy. Well, he jumped. My legs were useless slabs of meat.
THe nurses whisked her away and started cleaning her up, checking to make sure she hadn’t swallowed the meconium (she didn’t). They had to take her immediately to the special care nursery but laid her on my chest for a few minutes beforehand. She latched on immediately and started nursing right away, a great sign.
After that, she spent the next two days in the special care nursery while I recovered in another room. I had to be pushed in a wheelchair every three hours to nurse her in her room. It was emotionally difficult to be separated from her — especially knowing she had all these horrible wires sticking out of her — but it was also nice to have that time to recover and know that her needs were being met by the experts. I was completely exhausted, go figure. All I could handle were a few episodes of Women Cops of Dallas and a post delivery meal consisting of the most delicious kebabs, naan and hummus, brought in by that awesome husband of mine.
The doctor came by to check up on me and told me that a lot of doctors in his position would have opted for the C-section at the first hint of duress. They wouldn’t have wasted one moment considering a vaginal delivery. I thanked him, thinking to myself that despite his stony Soviet disposition maybe he had a heart after all. He took my fears and concern seriously, opting to try to work with me, instead of immediately wheeling me into surgery. For that, I will always be grateful.
And now we’re all home settling into our expanded family unit. Katie is a laid back infant. She sleeps well, nurses great and doesn’t cry all that much. June adores her. I adore both my girls. Life is good. Jake and I could not be happier.