I woke up the morning of April 21st annoyed.
If you have ever seen the movie Clerk’s, you might be familiar with the line “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” I, on the 21st, should not have been at work. I work in the school system and I was fully prepared to begin my two week spring break at work on the 10th and stretch that to the 24th (my due date and first day of my maternity leave). But no, a snow day had ruined my plans and I had to go back for one day.
Pregnancy had, by this date, burned totally through any novelty it may have held. I was large, swollen, sore and exhausted. This was a planned, very much wanted pregnancy. My husband had come off of a pretty scary health crisis and we jumped right in to baby making. I was incredibly sick right off the bat, and was about five or six months along until I didn’t have to take a Unisom everyday to keep food down. After that, the exhaustion set in, along with plenty of personal strife, including but not limited to my anxiety spinning out of control, leaving me emotionally a trainwreck. I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do. We attended the birthing classes, the breastfeeding classes, the new baby classes. Every class. All the classes.
I would have happily taken a personal day, but my coworker had taken the day to move into her new place. She was terrified throughout my pregnancy that I would go into labor at work. That morning, some other friends we worked with sent her text messages:
JOEIS WATER BROKE AT WORK.
My thoughts were with my lunch plans: Decaf Iced Coffee in the biggest size available. During the commute, I noticed that the inside of my much loved maternity leggings were wet. When I got back from my coffee run I decided to stop by the bathroom and have a look. I had lost my mucus plug! Hold tight, you’re not in labor yet, I told myself, before I sent my mom a text to let her know.
I finished my work day, bouncing on an exercise ball alongside preschoolers for an extra “boost”. I will not waste one minute of this maternity leave NOT holding a baby.
When I got back to the house, I knew what questions would be asked of me.
“How do you feel?”
I wanted this baby out, but my mother and grandmother were only close seconds. These two lines were their daily inquest.
The weather was incredible that afternoon. The air lacked its typical Pennsylvania humidity- truly, it was the start of spring. My mother was outside, working in the yard with our three dogs. One of these dogs, Violet, had experienced a slipped disk in her back just months prior. Even just a few days before, I had tried to collect yet another urine sample from this sixty five pound ball of muscle and fur. She had another urinary tract infection, and I, in my third trimester of this pregnancy, had clearly lost my mind and I crawled around in the dirt, following her with a pill container to collect her pee. Perhaps I saw it as a favor repaid: Violet had been my constant companion for the entirety of this pregnancy.
When I returned home that afternoon, all three dogs ran to greet me, but Violet wedged herself between my legs and the other dogs. It was a bold power move for her, but I let it go to answer the only question anyone had for me.
“Weird”. I said. “Not bad, just weird”.
I stopped in the bathroom again. The rest of the mucus plug had come away, tinged with blood. This time I decided to call the OB’s office.
The voice on the other end of the answering service was cheerful. “Let me get the doctor on call, I think it’s Doctor T”. My heart sunk. Last week, at my check up, this man had not warmed himself to me. After a very uncomfortable internal exam, he had proclaimed my cervix lousy, un-dilated, told me that I had a very narrow pelvis and would probably need a c-section. I left that appointment in tears.
And low and behold, he was the doctor on call.
“Just stay put”. Is basically what he said. I had a terrible feeling that this physician would be the one to deliver my first born.
The evening went peacefully. I visited with my grandmother in her living room before my husband came home. He had just installed a net to practice frisbee golf, so I walked around the yard with him, sitting on a gardening stool once he was done. Our HVAC “guy” (don’t you all have a guy?) and his wife came to chat before we sat down for dinner, grilled chicken, a baked potato and vegetables.
As I finished eating my emotions upended. I realized how much unknown there was in the world: My grandmother’s health was rapidly declining, Violet (the UTI laden dog) had been so sick. My anxiety disorder going into overdrive this pregnancy. Spiritually and emotionally I felt completely overcome. And as all millenials do, I posted about it on Facebook. This was about 7:45 pm.
I had a really great pair of sweatpants picked out for that evening, because that is what my life had come to. I pulled them on, my husband coming into the bedroom, on the phone with his mother.
Uh huh, uh huh. He says. Yes, of course mom, I’ll let you know if anything changes
And almost on cue, I feel a pop and liquid pours down my legs.
Tell her something had changed!
I wasn’t having any contractions, but I was certain that my water had just broken. Yes, it was like in the movies. A huge gush, something that my birth class had assured me would not happen.
Damn, I really wanted to wear those sweatpants.
I yelled for my mom on my way across the hall to the bathroom. The gush had been so forceful that my underwear didn’t absorb any of it. Sitting on the toilet so I didn’t drip amniotic fluid everywhere was the only thing I could think to do. And post on Facebook. 8:00pm.
Husband called Dr. T, upon my suggestion. The doctor told my husband that he could meet us at the hospital in about twenty minutes. So we packed up, I slipped on my new leather sandals (recently purchased because my shoes no longer fit around my swollen feet), and tucked a beach towel between my legs. I was committed to not ruining any upholstery.
Instead of parking temporarily in front of the emergency room, my husband parked in the parking garage. I waddled at least one story, leaking, a towel still shoved between my legs, trying to keep up with my spouse, angry at myself that my new shoes were probably getting trashed.
The emergency room doors opened like the gates of heaven. Angelic creatures, also known as hospital staff, brought forth my chariot, the UPMC issued wheelchair. I had pre registered, so I was taken to triage pretty quickly. Once I was there, I kicked off my sandals as quickly as I could. They still looked to be in pretty good shape. I peeled off my pants and dropped them into a drawstring plastic bag, separate from the shoes. I hopped up on the bed, the baby and I were both monitored.At this point my contractions were mild and far apart.
And then the worst cervical check of my life happened.
I said words to this nurse that would have made Amy Schumer blush. She was a nice person, I apologized-but if someone was elbow deep in your vagina, you would probably swear too. I was only one centimeter dilated. She went on to explain that they were going to do two tests. One I cannot remember clearly and one was the “fern” test. The first was done simply, with a test strip and the fern test had to be taken out of the room. The strip test was first, and it pretty quickly tested negative for amniotic fluid. The nurse looked puzzled. Fluid was still pouring out of me.
I don’t think you peed yourself. She assured me.
Doctor T entered the room soon after.
I don’t think you are in labor. I think you peed yourself.
I was livid. The doctor decreed in all his wisdom that we would wait for the fern test to come back and then they would release me.
In my anger, I did again what millennials do. I posted it on facebook. This was roughly 10:00 pm.
However, minutes later, my sworn-at nurse returned, triumphant.
Your water definitely broke!
My first perceived win over male medical tyranny. The doctor returned to explain that I would be admitted and because I wasn’t having active contractions, I’d be given pitocin, my dosage would gradually increase. So, with that news in hand, my husband texted my mother, who was either in the hospital already or was close to leaving the house. We were then moved to the labor and delivery floor, which I had seen once or twice visiting friends and in our birth class, but could no longer visualize on my own.
Did I mention I was still gushing fluid? It rolled down my legs and into my fresh hospital socks. A very attractive look.
I instantly recognized our first LD nurse, Missy. She had instructed two of our baby related classes, so I felt a level of trust already, which would prove to be crucial. She inserted my IVs and started pitocin. I went into this experience very pro-epidural, but knowing that I wasn’t very dilated yet, I wanted to see how long I could go without. I started to get pretty uncomfortable with the contractions (pitocin induced contractions are a different breed, or so I am told). I attempted to get on the exercise ball for relief. Absorbent pads were draped over the ball and I hopped up on, but between my I.V, monitoring cords and continued leaking, I just couldn’t get comfortable. With the pitocin bumped up, the contractions intensified. So with my blessing, Missy called down to the anesthesiologist. She warned me prior that it may take a while for him to come upstairs, as there was an incident in the ER.
Much to my surprise, he showed up very quickly. This, however, is where the story gets a little sorted. I am terrified of needles- this fact paired with my raging hormones bubbled over into me being a tense sobbing mess as the procedure started. My mother was allowed to stay and tried to talk me down from behind Missy, who was the only one allowed to touch me in order to keep the field sterile. My cries were making my back shake, to which the anesthesiologist loudly complained that I needed to stop crying and I was making his job harder. He proclaimed that he had a gunshot victim in the ER and I was taking up his time. My mother was livid. I could hear her:
That’s NOT her problem!
I clung to Missy’s abdomen, apologizing over and over. Eventually the line was placed and he left. I wouldn’t see him again, but the experience took me down a notch.
Not long after, Dr. T wanted to come back in for another cervical check. I wasn’t into it, but I was also so emotionally spent and exhausted from the epidural incident that I could not say “no”. This is why nurses are critical. Missy knew, she could tell, and offered to do the check and report back to him. I couldn’t feel anything, but knowing it was her arm feeling around and not the arm of some asshole with a medical degree made me feel much better. She was truly an asset. Before she left that night she helped me turn from side to side, placing the peanut ball between my legs to help me progress. Her shift ended at what I imagine was 11 p.m or midnight. She introduced me to a new nurse, Sandy (I do not recall her actual name), and wished me good luck.
I was still only one centimeter dilated, but at least with the epidural I could take a nap. Star Wars was on, my was stepfather watching it in the waiting room so we flipped it on in ours. My mother and husband dozed off in the room as I watched Adam Driver’s darkened face on my T.V. I eventually faded in and out, but really woke up at around 8 a.m. Sandy, cheery and warm, woke me to tell me she had to do another cervical check. This time I was eight and 65% effaced! She announced that it was time to start pushing.
This went on until 12 pm. There were no real issues, except that for a time I required oxygen to bring the baby’s heart rate back up. I knew that this wasn’t unusual and it seemed to work well.
I didn’t realize how much time had passed. I dare say we were even having a good time, but I was exhausted. Emotionally drained. Dr. T comes back into the room. He announces that I need to decide then and there if we are using forceps to get this baby out or if I’m having a csection. Panic set in. Forceps scared me; while they had worked for some, I had a bad feeling about them. But after all the work I put in, did I want a cesarean?
I inquired about a vacuum, but the doctor said he wouldn’t use that. It had to be forceps or surgery. I started sobbing. This was an overwhelming decision to say the least. Sandy, my mom, and my husband did their best to calm me, but I was a wreck.
With great reluctance, I agreed to a forcep delivery. As they prepared me, I sobbed and clenched my eyes shut. I think someone put a damper wash cloth over my forehead. I was told I could change my mind.
This part is difficult to write. Still really hard to think about. This wasn’t at all what I wanted and at this point, I felt like my birth was simply happening to me. Not with me. I tried to pretend I was somewhere else. Maybe if I could just disassociate for a little, it would all be over.
It got worse. My epidural lost its effectiveness and I felt every inch of the speculum. I started screaming, begging them to stop. I begged them to just give me a cesarean.
It was like time stopped. The doctor tried to explain to me what a csection would require and all I could do was yell
I know what a fucking csection is just do it.
The dust settled and before I knew it was was getting ready for surgery. Being shaved, having my epidural turned way up and was dosed with fentanyl. They brought me a shot glass sized dose of a foul anti nausea medication. Sandy was still with me, through all of this. My mom said goodbye and went to the waiting room. My husband went to get scrubs on and meet me in the OR. I closed my eyes, just wanting to sleep. I felt like I failed. I had just gone through hours of labor to end up here.
We got to the operating room and waited for the anesthesiologist. He never showed up. The nurse anesthetist, who I will call Donna, assured the team she could do anything.
They strapped my arms down
I started to feel very sick.
I think I’m going to throw up.
They tell me that’s normal.
No, you don’t understand, I’m going to throw up
Before they could get a pan to me, I vomited through my hair and onto Sandy. It was very glamorous.
My husband arrived, staying by my head, Dr. T and an intern began the procedure. I nodded in and out a bit at first until I felt another wave of nausea. I asked Donna to touch my face, something I learned in my birth class, that would distract me. She petted my forehead the entire time.
Donna guided me through the process. She told me that I would feel pressure when they pulled the baby out. It was less pressure and more like going down on a steep roller coaster.
I heard them announce my son’s birth. Nolan was here. He cried almost immediately. I was so relieved that I also cried. This was 1:37 pm. They brought him to my face, a moment I wish I remembered better. I kept turning my head, trying to get a peek at him.
Sandy told me that they would take Nolan and my husband to recovery, so they could do skin to skin while I was stitched up. Later, I found out they wheeled him through the waiting room first, for my mom, stepdad and in-laws to see.
We eventually met in recovery. I was paralyzed from the neck down, my arms were useless, so I watched my husband and Nolan have skin to skin for a while. I also had to lay flat for a while, but once he tried to latch on my husband, they tried to get him to nurse on me.
My hospital stay after that had highs and lows. I had the kindest and most supportive nurses and CNAs. Nolan and I had a hard time nursing at first. He had excessive congestion from not being pushed through a birth canal, so he needed to go down to the NICU for an hour or so to get suctioned. The nurses all told me that he was very pleasant.
The first night nurse will always be my favorite. She helped me get Nolan the colostrum he needed, gave me sherbet and a sponge bath. I was prepared for everything to hurt, but her gentle voice reassured me. She saw me tense up and would guide me through everything.
I had a few visitors, but tried to keep them to a minimum, because I had never been in as much pain as I was then. I couldn’t get out of bed to change Nolan, so my husband changed his first few diapers. Standing up for the first time was hellish and necessary. My mom watched me shake uncontrollably as I took my first shower.
My son and I spent a lot of that hospital stay naked and together. I had him Saturday, and by Sunday I had abandoned the hospital gown and was just naked. This also made visiting a little uncomfortable. Mostly, I held my son and kept trying to nurse him. Some nurses were worried about jaundice, my pediatrician was not.
Mercifully, Dr. T told me I could go home Monday. He tried to send me home with some high strength narcotics, which I made clear I would not accept.
Our return home was surreal. I didn’t know I could love anyone that intensely.
I had profound spiritual experiences in those first weeks. I watched my grandma with him. She would pass away in our family home a few months later. Friends rallied to help me form a strong nursing relationship with my son.
In a way, the cesarean gave me the gift of rest. I could rest for weeks with my son without expectation, because I was healing from major surgery. My only real hiccup was that no one setup my appointment to remove my staples. I had them in a week or so too long and they frantically informed me that I needed to come into to have them removed ASAP. I had to have my friends little brother take me. He was a real sport.
Now, a year removed from the experience, I try not to regret. It is my experience, my story of how I got my son. I’m still struggling to make sense of some of it, I wonder what could have been different. Could I have labored at home? Why did I let them tie my arms down? Did the doctor damage? I can’t linger. I love this child more than any questions I have. I still gave birth, my body didn’t fail.
Cesarean birth is birth.
Written with love by: Joei Beaver