This is the story of Eleanor’s birth (hence the title of this post. I know, I’m just so creative.)
First, a little background info:
1) Those of you familiar with the story of Zoey’s birth can probably understand why it was really important to me to do everything I could to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with Eleanor.
2) We did not know if Eleanor was going to be a boy or girl.
3) At around 6 months pregnant I had to take a course of steroids for inflammation in my inner ear that was making me so dizzy I fell out of a chair at work. These steroids triggered gestational diabetes, which was a huge shock to me as I usually am battling somewhat low blood sugar.
4) I respond REALLY poorly to narcotics. I have side effects like “forgetting to breathe” or “trying to scratch off eight layers of skin…from my face” or “high as a freaking kite.” This was the case with every single narcotic I had ever tried prior to Eleanor’s birth, leading me to believe an epidural would not, in actuality, be beneficial to me in labor.
5) I have what my doctor has termed an “irritable uterus.” I start getting contractions at around 15 weeks pregnant – strong contractions. They don’t hurt or cause any cervical changes, but they are distracting and exhausting. The more activity I do, the more contractions I get. This can also be rough on baby to be squeezed so much all the time. So with both pregnancies I have ended up on “light duty” at work to try to minimize the contractions. However, this also presented the conundrum of “how will I know when I’m in labor when I have contractions all the time anyway?” Remember: I never got to go into labor with Zoey, so this was all new to me.
So, the story:
Tuesday, August 14th
I had a routine checkup with my doc. I think her words were something like, “Go home and rest. This baby isn’t coming out this week. You’re still sealed up tight.” Ha. We’ll show you, Dr. McKnowItAll! (Actually, I really love our doc, but whatever. Moving on…)
Wednesday, August 15th
I woke up around 2am and was feeling slightly crampy. This was new. I hoped it meant maybe someday soon I would be having a baby and NOT BE PREGNANT ANYMORE. Let me state that this was the HOTTEST freaking week of the year here where we live. Temps in the 90’s and, in this state, nobody has air conditioning. Anyway, the crampiness continued and around 5am I woke up and wasn’t able to go back to sleep.
At 10 that morning, like every other Wednesday, I had a playdate meeting with a mom’s group. We’ve been meeting once a week since Zoey was 8 weeks old (we all had babies born at the same time). There was a lot of joking about me being in labor. By the time I got home and got Zoey to sleep for her nap around 12:30, I realized that the contractions were spaced pretty regularly, about 6-8 minutes apart. This was new, although they were still the same strong, painless contractions I’d been having for months. Acting on advice from a friend, I called my doc just to give her a heads up. They told me to go ahead and go in to triage since my doc was already there delivering another baby.
I called Zach and told him to come home from work and then called my dad. He was “on call” to leave work and come care for Zoey whenever I went into labor. A friend came and stayed with me while I waited for Zach and dad to get there (Zoey was still napping). At 3:45pm we were off to the hospital. In triage they said I was 50% effaced and only about 1cm dilated. They recommended I go walk for a couple hours to see if we could get me to progress more. So Zach and I went walking around the neighborhood, stopping for burritos for dinner. During those two hours, the contractions started to get painful for the first time. A few were really intense, getting us some worried looks from people on the street.
We checked back in with the triage nurses just after 7pm and I was still only dilated to about 2cm, with contractions about every 3-5 minutes. This wasn’t enough progress to get me checked in so they sent us home. Since the contractions were so close together I was advised to come back when I was “bent over the bed with each contraction, unable to talk through them.” We asked my dad to stay the night in case I had to go back to the hospital in the middle of the night (my parents live about a 1 hour drive away from us.)
Thursday, August 16th
I was unable to sleep that night due to the contractions being every 2-4 minutes apart and increasingly painful. By 4am I was meeting the criteria I had been given for going back to the hospital so we woke up my dad and headed in. At this point I’d been awake for about 24 hours, so when they told me I was still only 2.5 cm dilated and 70% effaced I started crying. It wasn’t enough progress to admit me. I was told I was in “prodromal labor” which roughly translates to: “sucks to be you.” It means you have all the pain and frequency of contractions of active labor, but nothing really happens, and it can last for days. DAYS. Usually, they give the mom a shot of morphine so she can go home and get some sleep for awhile. Unfortunately, me + morphine = bad side effects mentioned above. After much discussion, they decide to admit me to the post-partum unit for a couple of hours so that they can give me a shot of Fentanyl (which I’d never had before) and monitor me for any bad reactions (like not breathing). I agreed to this for several reasons: 1) Fentanyl is short-acting so if it was bad, it would wear off soon and 2) I was desperate for sleep. Turns out, Fentanyl works GREAT for me! Unfortunately, right after giving it to me, the nurse decided to ask me my entire medical history and send in someone to draw blood from me so I still didn’t get any sleep. At 10am they sent me home.
I spent the rest of the day alone in the basement (the coolest part of the house), moaning in pain and trying to cope with the contractions that were now consistently every 2-3 minutes. Zach was upstairs taking care of Zoey and trying to keep her away from me – I didn’t want her to see me in so much pain. I think I got a total of about 2 hours of sleep during the day, in 5-15 minute intervals.
Friday, August 17th
By 1am I just couldn’t cope any longer. I knew the pain hadn’t gotten any worse, but I was so exhausted that it FELT worse and I had no reserves left. I had basically been awake for 48 hours at that point, with constant frequent contractions and a lot of pain. This was my breaking point. I started sobbing uncontrollably and begging Zach to take me back to the hospital because “I can’t do this! I’m so tired!” He called our (really awesome, fabulous) babysitter who was at our doorstep within 15 minutes despite that fact that it was 2am. She would stay with Zoey until my dad could get there and my mom would meet us at the hospital.
At triage, the nurse does the exam and then tells us, “You were still only dilated to about 2.5cm but I stretched you to a 3 and you stayed.” God bless her. I started crying (again) because I couldn’t believe that all those hours of contractions had done NOTHING and that this kind nurse had given me the ticket I needed to finally get admitted to the hospital (where there is medicine! For pain!). So at about 5:45 am they gave me a room and another dose of Fentanyl. The nurse I had was really great – very hands on – and showed Zach and my mom how to put pressure on my hips to help with the pain during contractions. It made a huge difference. I was so exhausted I could barely sit up anymore, but lying down increased the pain ten-fold.
I was really hungry as I hadn’t eaten much due to all the contractions the past 24 hours. They didn’t want me eating much, but let me have jello, popsicles and a few crackers. They had to watch my blood sugar frequently due to the gestational diabetes and I warned them that if they didn’t let me eat my blood sugars were going to tank. I know my body and, diabetes or not, I was burning through sugar fast with all those contractions.
Zach and I really wanted to donate the cord blood, as we had with Zoey, so they started to draw the blood they would need in order to do that. Unfortunately, that blood loss combined with the exhaustion and lack of nutrition was more than my poor body could take. I wound up vomiting violently and they had to stop the blood draw. They never did get another chance to draw more, so the cord blood was donated to research rather than treatment. I ended up with a huge bruise that lasted for over a week where they had been trying to draw the blood.
Somewhere around this time I predicted that the baby was going to weight 7 pounds and 1 ounce at birth.
Around noon I was 80% effaced and dilated to 4 cm (yes, that’s 1 cm in about 7 hours. Ugh!) I will also mention that at this point my water still had not broken. We had multiple conversations with the doctors about our options and the gist of it was this: if we broke my water or tried to induce me along in any way there was a much greater chance I would end up with another c-section. Also, if they gave me an epidural before I had progressed to about 5cm it could slow down the labor (HOW COULD IT GET ANY SLOWER?!?!) and I could end up with another c-section.
Finally, around 2:45pm, I was dilated to about 5.5 cm. They called in the anesthesiologist and, after a long talk with him about my distrust for anesthesiologists (see: Zoey’s birth) and fears regarding narcotics, I agreed to an epidural. At that point I didn’t really have a choice. It had been almost 60 hours since I had slept. I had used up all the shots of Fentanyl you’re allowed (don’t want to overly drug the baby) and I was never going to have enough energy to push when the time came, which meant I would end up with another c-section. It turned out that getting an epidural was a REALLY great decision. The doc did a fantastic job and I FINALLY felt comfortable and could rest.
Around 7pm, my water FINALLY broke. I was dilated to 9.5 cm at that point – things really sped up once I got that epidural! Also, with the change of shift at 7 I got a new nurse and it turned out to be a friend from nursing school. This made me really happy. I’d had a lot of anxiety (even nightmares) about being able to trust the staff during delivery and having a familiar, friendly face there was a huge blessing.
Since I had the epidural and baby was doing fantastic, we decided to just let me “labor down” for awhile – allow the contractions to move baby down as far as possible before beginning to push – in order to allow me some more rest.
A little after 8pm I could tell it was time and by 9 pm I was pushing. It was the most amazing experience. I could feel the contractions just enough to know when to push, but it didn’t hurt. At all. It actually felt really good to push. I was smiling and excited for the entire 45 minutes that I was pushing.
At 9:45pm, Eleanor was born. They announced, “It’s a girl!” and I was a bit surprised. I think I had actually convinced myself we were having a boy. Zach and I both had huge smiles on our faces that wouldn’t go away. They immediately brought her to me and put her on my chest. I got to try nursing her right then and there, while they were still stitching me up. Within minutes of being born she gave us all a beautiful smile.
I really didn’t want to let go of Eleanor to let them weigh and measure her. I even had a hard time allowing Zach to hold her for awhile before I demanded to have her back. I think the first words he said were, “She’s so beautiful!” She was 7 pounds, 1.9 ounces. Exactly as I had predicted. They measured her at 17.5 inches long, but the next day she was re-measured (much more accurately) and was actually 18.5 inches.
The single, strongest feeling/thought/emotion/memory/what-have-you that I have about Eleanor’s birth is this:
In all my efforts to prepare myself for her birth, I was preparing myself to withstand another very difficult event. I told myself frequently that I had to be ok with being given drugs, an epidural, even another c-section so long as it meant the baby was ok. I meditated and mentally prepared myself to handle the pain of labor. I kept reaffirming to myself and my husband that we were going to speak up and protect what few choices we had so that this time, at the very least, I wouldn’t come home feeling traumatized for months.
In all that preparation in never, not even once, occurred to me that the birth of my child could be a HAPPY event.
Crazy, right? Yet, even after 3 days of exhausting and painful labor, when I was pushing, the overwhelming feeling I had was pure, simple joy. I was just so darn happy! It was finally dawning on me that I was really doing it, I was really having this baby just like I wanted to. There was no OR, no surgeon, no emergency. She was doing great and so was I. I don’t think I ever truly believed I was going to get to have this birth experience and when I did I was just flooded with so many positive emotions, so much self-confidence and pride at what I had accomplished, so much gratitude for the truly wonderful family, doctors and nurses who had helped me to do it.