11 February 2008

She who labors, labors not in vain

As may be surmised from my previous post, Fuzzy decided to make his way into the outer world. It has been a crazy few weeks, so I'm still trying to pull myself together to send photos to friends and family, and to tell the tale of his coming here on my blog.

But first, some vital statistics:
Nathan Alan
February 6, 2008; 10:12 am
Weight: 7 lbs, 9 oz
Length: 21 inches
Hair: brown
Eyes: dark blue-grey
Status: Adored by all

Caveat: The following narrative may not be for the squeamish or the faint of heart. You have been warned!

I am certain that every woman has a lively labor-and-delivery story for every one of her babies, but I think (narcissistically, no doubt) that mine is sort of funny, and people might want to read it. It's worth noting that Nathan's due date was February 19, so he really came about 2 weeks early. I'd been told that first babies often come later than their due dates, and it's not like I'm usually on time or early for anything.

Last Tuesday morning, I began my day by reading in 1 Peter. For whatever reason (i.e. I didn't actually sleep the night before), I fell asleep for a few hours and awoke around 11 am. During the latter part of my nap, I'd become vaguely aware of cramps in my lower back and pelvis area. I'd been cleaning and rearranging the front closet the day before, lifting and shoving boxes around, so I figured that my pain was directly related to the fact that I should not have been doing so much heavyish work while almost 9 months pregnant, and I must have strained my back and hips. I told Jeff I was having some pain, and he was a bit concerned, and reminded me to take it easy

I went to the bathroom, and noted some "bloody show", which was heavier than spotting, but not really a full-on gushing of blood. I wondered if I should call the doctor for advice, or if that would be overdoing it. I didn't want to be one of those freaky freak-out women who obsesses about every little thing. But... blood is blood, so I ended up calling the doctor's office. The efficient nurse (named Bonnie, but that is not important) called me back and we figured out that I had lost my mucus plug (on her advice, I checked, and there was a clumpy-looking thing in the toilet). She reminded me that the mucus plug can come out a few weeks before labor (so I considered myself to be right on target, being two weeks before my due date), but told me that if I had heavier bleeding or started having contractions, I should call again.

I did take it easy through the afternoon, finalizing our birth plan and the packing list for the hospital bag--we had two more weeks, so I was doing fine. When my cramping pains didn't abate, but rather intensified, I said to myself, "Self," I said, "this must be that false labor I've heard so much about. It can happen a few weeks prior to labor and delivery."

After dinner, I contacted Mel (who lives in our apartment complex) and told her that I wanted to go walking to loosen up my muscles, because obviously they just needed to be exercised and then stretched. Stupid cramps. I had planned to just walk up to visit her, but she wanted exercise, too, so we took about 30 minutes to stroll on some streets, and visited our friendly neighborhood tattoo parlor (which also does piercings, of course).

Mel had an evening vet appointment for her new cat, Harris Xerxes, and Jeff and I went with her to keep her company. The cramps had felt better after the walk, but they started getting worse again. I just breathed through them, and told Jeff and Mel, "It may be false labor, but there's nothing false about the pain."

We returned home and I went to bed, with pains becoming worse and more frequent (Editor's note: Sheesh, you'd think I would have clued in by that time, but no). I couldn't sleep, got up a few times, took Tylenol (Hey, it's supposed to help with pain, right?), and at midnight, I was too restless, so I got up and started packing the hospital bag. I'd gone to all the trouble to make the packing list that afternoon, and I thought I might as well accomplish something if I was going to be kept up by insomnia and agony.

Jeff came to bed, and was concerned that my cramps had not let up, but told me to come back to bed and try to relax. The cramping was coming more frequently, but the intervals were not regular: spaced 3 minutes apart, then 7, then 3 contractions occurred within two minutes. Relaxing didn't help, so he told me to try getting up and walking around a bit.

I walked around, and alternated that with sitting down at the computer. My darling best friend Sara was online (it was 2 am in AZ, and 1 am in CA), so we chatted for quite a while. I told her that I wasn't feeling well at all, with the frequent pelvic pain and all. Ever wise, Sara told me, "You should probably start doing something about that." We talked about various things, including her latest projects in Bones fan fiction. And I looked up "false labor vs true labor" on Google, just in case. *gulp* My pains fell squarely under the "true labor" heading: becoming more intense and more frequent over time, not going away with movement or change in position, being felt starting in the lower back and moving around to the lower abdomen.

I told Sara I thought I'd take a warm bath to counteract them. "Is that a good idea?" she asked. I replied that warm baths were recommended for labor pains, and added, "Besides, if I'm going into the hospital, I want to be clean!"

By this time, the contractions were quite frequent and intense, and lasted at least 30 seconds each time, though the bath did help to ease the hurting. Accordingly, I woke Jeff to inform him of the latest developments. "I think I might really be in labor!" He took a shower, while I began throwing stuff haphazardly into the hospital bag. I was in more and more pain, and started to panic. He reminded me to breathe. "Hee hee hoo, hee hee hoo, just like we learned in childbirth class." He packed a bag for himself, too.

Just before 4 am, Jeff had loaded up the car with our stuff and the baby's new car seat (since we wouldn't be able to take him from the hospital without it), cranked up the car heater since it was so cold that the car windows had frosted over, and then thoughtfully called into work to let them know that his wife was in labor and so he probably wouldn't be in for work later in the day. The drive to the hospital was less than 10 minutes, since I had selected our hospital based on the fact that it was the nearest hospital to our apartment. One nice thing about going anywhere in the middle of the night is that there is always plenty of parking available. Jeff found a parking spot pretty near the entrance, and grabbed the bags, while I stood shakily and breathed through the pain. There was nobody at the regular entrance, but it was open; I guess they just expect most people to arrive at the ER, rather than the main entrance, at 4:00 in the morning. We walked in, passed a few custodial people, and went up to labor and delivery floor (we knew where it was, because we'd had birthing center tour just a week before).

We were admitted by a perky person at nurse station/desk; apparently we'd been preregistered, since they already had a file with my name on it. They found me a room and gave me the standard flimsy cotton shift to change into. The patient care tech there told me, "We're going to check your cervix to see if you're dilated, and then we're going to check again in about an hour to see if you're making any progress, because the definition of labor isn't really the labor pains, but the progress in the dilation of the cervix." That being said, she went on to check my cervix, and got a look of bemused consternation on her face. She called over another tech. "I need a second opinion-- I can't find her cervix!"
Tech #2 did her check and said, "She's really thin and dilated to 8 centimeters." Oh, dear.
Tech #1 turned to me. "Well, it looks like you're having a baby today!"
Me: "But I'm not ready!!!"

Everyone proceeded to get busy, prepping everything and contacting my ob/gyn to alert her of my status. Jeff stayed glued to my side; he was my point of focus to get through the contractions, and he talked me through them when I lost focus and forgot to breathe in my panic. Let me take this opportunity to share that Jeff was an AWESOME labor coach! He was the one who really got me through the whole thing.

They hooked me up to an IV, which turned out to be second most traumatic thing about my whole ordeal. I am not afraid of needles; I do just fine with shots. However, I hate getting my blood drawn, and now that I've had an IV, I can state that I getting those, too. I guess I just don't like the thought of needles sticking into my blood vessels for protracted lengths of time. I also have a very contrary circulatory system, in that my veins are really hard to find. The tech could not get a vein in my left arm, so after several tries, she went to my right arm. With her jabbing around, I started to pass out, even though I was lying down flat on the bed; my vision was blacking out and I had the ringing in my ears. The tech gave up and called another person over, who went back to my left arm, and, though she griped about it, eventually got the IV needle into a vein close to my wrist. Let me add, though, that even though I loathed the experience of having the IV put in, I do think it was good to have it, since it provided me with fluid and energy for the labor experience when I could consume only ice chips (and it's worth noting that my tummy didn't WANT anything other than ice chips at that point).

They were concerned that my water hadn't broken (which was one major reason why I didn't think I was actually in labor till 2 am), but were still waiting it out. I had relaxed a bit, and Jeff was being really great about keeping me focused but not too intense.
I told the nurse, "Well, overall, being in labor isn't as bad as I thought, but I'm really worried about getting to the transition stage, because we learned in childbirth class that it can be painful and scary."
The nurse gave me a look. "Honey, you're already there!" Doh!
Anyway, all the nurses and techs seemed amazed and kept saying things like "You made it through transition with only the breathing to manage the pain?!"

Eventually, they gave me a narcotic (stadol) in the IV, to relax me, and help with the pain and the dilation, for a few hours. Let me just say, that drug was really good stuff while it lasted. I kept fading in and out of a dreamlike state, and every time I came out, I'd talk with Jeff. I am guessing I sounded extremely loopy, but I don't remember what we talked about. I DO remember constantly thinking about zoo animals; every time I fell into that somnolent state, I'd be thinking about elephants and giraffes and monkeys... Go figure. I finally understand why some people would take consciousness-altering drugs. I was pleased to have this safely monitored and extremely legal opportunity to try them, myself.

Melissa visited as the stadol was gradually wearing down, thoughtfully bringing Jeff some breakfast on her way to take Harris Xerxes to the vet to be declawed. I think she was sort of impressed by "Deb on a drug trip".

Speaking of drugs, I did not have an epidural. As noted with my stadol experience, I am fully in support of having drugs for pain during labor. I must admit, though, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of getting an epidural. Remember how I hate having needles sticking into my veins? I didn't think a needle sticking into my spine would be any more appealing. I did consider having one, anyway, because reducing pain is a good thing when one is in labor, but as chance (or fate) would have it, it wasn't an option. Remember how I was already at 8 cm when I went to the hospital? Because I came in so late, by the time I would have been able to opt for an epidural, it was basically too late, as they will not administer an epidural at 9 or 10 cm. Words of wisdom, ladies: Go to the hospital early so you can get as many drugs as possible!

My ob/gyn happened to be on duty for a while, but had to leave later for a meeting from 10-11 that morning. She ended up breaking my water in the hopes that it would speed things along, but they still didn't move fast enough. My doctor's colleague would end up delivering the baby (and I didn't like her nearly as much, but women dilated to 9 cm can't be choosers). The nurse told me to keep breathing through the contractions (like I had a choice-- they weren't going away on their own) and let her know when I felt the urge to push. So I did, and then I felt it: you really do get an instinctual urge to push. I gasped, "It's time to push! Time to push!" Not witty, to be sure, but accurate and to the point.

The nurse checked me, and yes, I was at 10 cm! So then started the worst and most excruciating section of the childbirth experiencing: the pushing and actual delivery of the child. Fortunately, most of it has faded to a blur in my memory. Jeff was there, always coaching me to breathe, and keeping me focused. The nurse kept working with me, getting me and the baby to the point when the doctor would be called in. I asked how long it would be, and was told, "No way to tell. For a first-time mother, it could be a few hours." A few hours? God help me!

People have been asking me, "Is the pain really as bad as they say?" My answer is that the pain itself is pretty bad, but manageable in increments. The pain from stubbing a toe, for example, is actually much more intense, in and of itself, but it is over in a few seconds. The thing about childbirth is that the awful pushing contractions happen over and over and over again, and you have no way of knowing when it will all end, and so it starts out pretty bad and gets to be extremely agonizing over time. My impression is that "Okay, one more push" is the obstetrical equivalent of the Irianese "Satu gunung lagi, Pak!" (Editor’s note: Translation from Indonesian is “Just one more mountain, sir!”)

Obviously, I survived, and Fuzzy definitely knew where he was going, as he made his way down the birth canal. You'd think you'd feel a definite baby-sized lump, but I guess the pain sensors overwhelm the other sensors at that point. When his head became visible, they called in the doctor, who was briskly efficient; she didn't wear a mask or even have her hair tied back, though, which really irritated me (strange the things you notice during moments like giving birth). She also had me use stirrups, which was contrary to our birth plan, but then she isn't actually our ob/gyn. The funny thing is, the nurses and techs kept saying things like, "Wow, she's the calmest one we've ever had without an epidural," even though I was anything but calm, gasping and screaming and saying, "How much longer? I can't do this!" And Jeff and the others would say, "Yes, you can! One more push."

Eventually, as best I understand it, I started to tear, because I saw the doctor grab a syringe and then a scalpel, using them down at the end where she was working. Grr, the indignity, no epidural and then an episiotomy, but then, it was over, because there was no more pressure and the baby's head was able to make it through the opening. Once his head cleared, they pulled the rest of his body out, while I hyperventilated and didn't quite comprehend what was happening. Someone said, "Yes, it's definitely a boy!" They put his little body onto my chest, and I suddenly didn't know what to do. I was really meeting my Fuzzy for the first time! They took him to clean him up and weigh him and do all those things that nurses and techs do with a newly born baby, and the doctor stitched me up. I had to keep telling her to use more anesthetic (Editor’s note: I always have to tell dentists this, too.), because I could feel the stitches. In my opinion, making me feel stitches in my crotch after I'd just gone through childbirth was just adding insult to injury.

Side note: Nathan is very healthy and scored a 9 on his Apgar test!

I got him again, clean and swaddled. He felt so tiny! I held him and gave him his first meal. He got the idea pretty quickly, and ended up feeding for two hours! This is unusual, since new babies usually feed for only about 20 minutes at a time. He was famous, because whenever there was a shift change and we got a new nurse, she would comment, "Oh, this is the two-hour feeding baby!" Apparently they share that kind of information at the nurses' station.

They brought me a tray of food (score!) with juice, corn flakes, and milk. Corn flakes never tasted so good! And THEN they brought me my lunch, which surprised me since I thought the juice and cereal WAS my lunch. The corn flakes were actually better than most of the lunch food. Anyway, sweet Auntie Jennifer was the first person to visit us in the hospital. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of her with Nathan, but I guess my brain was focused on other things at the time.

In the afternoon, we were able to switch from a labor/delivery room to a recovery room on the other side of the birthing center. This room had a couch bed for Jeff (sadly, terribly uncomfortable), and there was a little plastic bin crib on a wheeled cabinet, where the baby was kept. Jeff crashed, since he had no sleep the previous night. I was also exhausted, but wasn't able to sleep. I fed Nathan a few more times (not as long as the first time, but he was a big eater from the start), tried to rest, and started dealing with the aches and pains and bodily fluids that are part of the whole childbirth and recovery experience.

Jeff had thoughtfully brought some movies to the hospital, and in the evening, we passed the time watching Tomb Raider--not really highbrow, but there's not much to do in a hospital room. Melissa came by later, bringing Jeff real food and me a milkshake, and Sam came a while later, as well. We spent the night in the room, though I didn't get much sleep, with the baby waking and needing to eat, and me still being a novice mom.

By morning, we were both tired of the whole hospital thing, and ready to just go home. People kept telling us, "You can stay two nights. It's allowed." I guess most people do stay two nights. But we were just ready to be done. Unfortunately, Nathan started running a temperature slightly above normal. He was checked by a pediatrician there, and then he was taken for some blood tests; we were told that if he showed everything as okay, we could take him home, but otherwise, we'd have to stay for observation. Naturally, we were willing to stay another night if we needed to for Nathan's safety. It turned out not to be necessary, though. We left around 8:00 in the evening.

Incidentally, my ob/gyn also stopped by to check on me in the morning. She was impressed with how well I was doing, and how quickly I became mobile. According to her, I was "a rock star with the whole pain thing". I guess I really do have a decently high pain tolerance level.

So that was my labor and childbirth for little Nathan Alan.

Lessons learned:
-There is a reason why narcotics are popular recreational drugs.
-There is a difference between regular muscle cramps and labor pains. It’s subtle, but once you know what it is, you’re not likely to overlook it again!
-Tylenol is great stuff for headaches, but doesn't help if you're actually in labor.
-A new mom definitely deserves a big chocolate milkshake (my choice; alternatively, any milkshake in a flavor of your choice).
-If you think you MIGHT be in labor, go to the hospital. The worst they will do is send you home.


Willow said...

I loved reading this! It filled in all the gaps of information I missed. Just to remind you: you arrived in four hours, start to finish. Same amount of pain, contracted into less time.

Congratulations, Mommy!

And don't let MamaMia read this or she'll decide she doesn't want a baby after all.

Life is a Marathon said...

I'm glad you shared the whole story! One benefit of having a blog is that you won't need to tell the same story over and over...

I really wish I could have been there to cheer you on!

Jeff, you are such awesome and faithful supportter! You two are great parents already!! =)

Take care & rest! =) Love, CMM

luminarumbra said...

Yes, thanks for sharing the whole story with us! Honestly, I'm gonna have to agree with you... that's the best birth story I've heard, and it seems like I'm hearing quite a few these days. I'm glad all three of you got through it alright, and hope you guys have many interesting stories to come!

Another great thing about having this on a blog... when you're ready to tell Fuzzy about how he was born, you'll have a nice, clear script, though there are some details he'll probably never want to hear again... at least until his wife is pregnant and he doesn't know what to do. ;)

Mama Mia said...

How exciting to hear the whole story and fill in the blank parts for us. Thanks!

No, it doesn't deter me at all, mums! haha Because, as Sis kept mentioning-- it's all about the supportive hubby who keeps you focused. :o) Hooray for Jeff! And Deb and Nathan!