Warning: this is a really long post. You might want to grab a snack first. And maybe some caffeine so you can make it to the end…
Zoey’s birth is a difficult story for me. On one hand, it was the most incredible day of my life because it was the day I first became a mom. Nothing can take away from how amazing that day was when you consider that fact that it’s the day that brought my daughter into this world.
On the other hand, the actual process of Zoey being born was decidedly negative for me. It resulted in a lot of emotional and psychological turmoil that I’ve struggled with for the past two years. Even now, I hesitated to write “giving birth to Zoey” and opted instead for “Zoey being born.” Let me explain…
We knew Zoey would have to be born via c-section. From the very first nugget-like image ultrasound she was in the breech position, and she never – not even once – turned. When we had a second ultrasound around 20-ish weeks and learned she was a girl she was still breech. I knew in that moment that she was going to stay that way. I don’t know how I knew – plenty of babies are breech at that point and 90% of them end up in the proper head-down position by birth time. But I knew, deep down, Zoey wasn’t going to do that.
Sure enough, we continued to check in on her with ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy and she remained breech. During the final couple of weeks before the due date we went to the hospital and tried to have her turned (an external cephalic version for those who like geeky medical terms). It didn’t work and I was devastated. We even asked the doctor to come back and try again. This is no small request, mind you. Anyone who has ever had this procedure done will tell you it is NOT pleasant or comfortable by any means. Excruciating is the word that always comes to my mind. Anyway, the second attempt didn’t work either. Neither did a third attempt a few days later, with a doctor who was supposed to have a really great success rate with this particular procedure. Zoey was just stuck.
So the date was set, the surgery scheduled, and on September 21st, 2010 I woke up knowing I was going to have a baby that day, even though I wasn’t in labor. Zach spent the entire morning in the kitchen cooking a soup that no one would be home to eat. I think he just needed to do something to avoid thinking about the momentous thing awaiting us.
Finally it was time to go to the hospital. We met my mom there. They put me in a gown, started an IV and began giving me fluids and antibiotics. The anesthesiologist came in and I told him how little of a tolerance I have for any medications, especially narcotics and sedatives. We told them we wanted to donate the cord blood and they drew blood from me (a lot!) to test so that we could. Then, all of a sudden, it was time. The nurse grabbed my IV and started walking down the hall and I hurried to waddle after her. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the hall to the OR that I realized I hadn’t said goodbye to my mom (we could only have one person with me in the OR and, naturally, that was Zach). I yelled back down the hall, “Bye mom! I love you!” I didn’t learn until later that she never heard me.
When I got to the OR I had to climb up on the table. Let me tell you, as a nurse who is used to being the one wearing the scrubs, that is a bizarre and surreal thing to do. This is the point where things started to quickly go downhill for me. The anesthesiologist came in to administer the spinal block and they had me sit on the edge of the table. He poked me 8 TIMES. Somewhere halfway through this ordeal I started crying, Zach turned green and looked like he might fall down soon, and I started begging the OR staff to talk to me and tell me what they were doing, what they wanted me to be doing. No one said a single word to me. They occasionally spoke to each other, going about their business, as the anesthesiologist continued to poke my spine, each time with no warning. It was like they couldn’t even hear me crying and pleading with them to tell me what they were doing. Finally, the nurse came up to me and asked, “What’s wrong? Do you hurt?” I replied, “No! It doesn’t hurt. I’m terrified! No one will talk to me!” She said, “Oh.” and walked away. That was it, just “Oh.” Another poke or two later the anesthesiologist said, “Ok we’re going to try this one more time and if it doesn’t work we’ll have to do something else.” Let me tell you, as a nurse, I know EXACTLY what “something else” is. It’s “let’s intubate her and knock her completely out.” My only thought was, “Like hell you will.” Let me reiterate that this was a non-emergent, routine, scheduled c-section. I wasn’t even in labor!
Fortunately, the spinal block worked that time. They laid me down on the table and promptly inserted a catheter before I was completely numb (felt EVERY second of that. Thanks). A minute later Zach whispered to me, “Just so you know, they did tie your hands down.” This was something I had specifically asked them NOT to do before going into the OR.
It seemed like forever – at least an hour or two – before Zoey was born, but in actuality, Zach told me later, it was less than 15 minutes. He distracted me from thinking about what was going on behind the drape by talking to me about our honeymoon in Maui. Then, at 5:04 pm, Zoey was born, and a moment later I heard her cry. The flood gates opened and I was bawling my eyes out. I caught a blurry glimpse as they took her to the heated infant bed across the room to examine her and told Zach to go see her. I saw him taking pictures with his phone and wiping his eyes. Then he came back to me. Then, the doctor came over and told us, “So she’s fine. But…” I think my heart actually stopped for a minute. In the brief second before she continued so many things flashed through my mind: Down’s Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome (I hadn’t known I was pregnant at first),radiation from the CT scan I had before I found out I was pregnant… “She’s missing a couple fingers on her left hand” she continued. I waited for more, but that was it. And so, finally, I breathed again. The doctor went on to explain that Zoey had only a thumb and two fingers (which were webbed together) on her left hand. “She’s using it so well we didn’t even notice right away” she said.
By this time they had Zoey swaddled up and Zach got to hold her. He brought her over to me so I could see her, but by this time the medication was starting to make me hazy (and ITCHY! Oh my god the ITCHINESS!) and I only remember a blurry glimpse of a baby in a swaddle. It could have been any baby for the amount of detail I could see, but I said “She’s perfect” and knew it was true anyway.
They had finished stitching me up and were ready to wheel me to recovery. The nurse – and god bless her for this – paused before we exited the OR and said to Zach, “Ok, enough dad. It’s mom’s turn” and swooped Zoey out of Zach’s arms and laid her next to me. I couldn’t focus my eyes on her or even muster the strength to hold her, but I could feel her next to me.
The next 12 hours were hell. I vaguely remember someone (a nurse?) telling me that I was still bleeding a bit too much and they had to put a pressure dressing across my incision. I know that my mom was there. I was alternating between puking my guts out and wavering on the edge of unconsciousness. It felt like climbing Mt. Everest just to open my eyes to see her. I wanted to tell Zach and my mom how hard I was trying just to look at her, but couldn’t find the strength. I remember itching a lot – my mom said I just about scratched my face off. A lovely side effect of the Duramorph spinal block. They gave me two doses of ondansetron, two doses of phenergan, two doses of reglan, two doses of steroids and a scopalamine patch to stop me from vomiting. None of it worked.
During this time, of course, Zoey needed to be fed. I felt very strongly about wanting to breastfeed her and not give her any bottles in the beginning that could create “nipple confusion.” Zach knew this and, as I was too out of it to even keep my eyes open much less hold Zoey, Zach held her up to me to nurse the first couple times. She knew exactly what to do and it actually worked quite well.
Somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning I finally started to come out of the gray fog, although it took several days for me to really build up any reserve again. No wonder they have you stay in the hospital for three days after a c-section.
I realize how negative all of this sounds. Quite possibly that’s because I have so many overwhelmingly negative feelings about the whole experience. For about six months afterward I would wake up at night sweating, shaking, crying from reliving the experience in my nightmares. Although I never sought professional help and was never diagnosed, I firmly believe I had a degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, all it takes is one look at Zoey’s beautiful smile, one hug, one peal of laughter from my sweet girl and I know, I KNOW, I would do it all over again in a second. Because it brought me her, and she’s worth all of it, a million times over.