Thursday, September 29, 3:15 p.m.
diana: how are you feeling?
amalah: ugh, they suck
diana: maybe they're real?
amalah: they hurt and there's absolutely no pattern to them
amalah: hoping they turn into something, but so far they're just duds
Famous last words.
All day, the contractions came and went. Jason came home from work and I whined about how crappy I felt. I started to feel the contractions in my back and I could no longer talk during them. Still, they were all over the place and I dismissed it all as false labor.
We ordered Indian food. I did laundry, clipped the dog's toenails and brushed the cat's teeth. Then I MacGuyvered up the iron so it fit in the holder I bought months ago using packing tape.
20 minutes apart.
I realized the contractions were coming regularly sometime during Survivor. Jason started timing contractions during The Apprentice.
(Yes, all major life milestones can be measured by reality television.)
At 10 p.m. we took Ceiba for a walk. The contractions kept coming. We started to let ourselves get excited. Could this be it? Was it really going to happen?
Nine minutes apart.
Jason started taking inventory of everything we had left to pack while I smugly informed him that the contractions were getting pretty painful, but I could totally handle them.
Seven minutes apart.
We came back inside and I took a shower. Jason started to gather up the camcorder, camera, cell phones and the four frillion chargers and spare batteries that went with each.
I debated whether or not to put makeup on, although I still kind of expected everything to come to a screeching halt because me? In labor? For real? Nah.
My doctor told me to call him when the contractions were five minutes apart for at least two hours. By 11 p.m., they hit five minutes. By midnight, they were four minutes apart. I still waited another hour, despite Jason's belief that we should just call the doctor NOW, because I Follow Instructions To The Point Of Ridiculous.
At 1 a.m., the contractions were three minutes apart. Shiiiit. I called the doctor, who 1) was totally asleep and 2) had no fucking clue who I was ("This is your second baby, right?"). He gave the all-clear to get to the hospital and to see if I was dilating at all.
We were off.
And we were already hopelessly disorganized. What to do with the dog? Leave food down for the cat! Tape a key to the front door for the contractor! On second thought, maybe scratch that last one. And pack the snacks! All the books said to bring snacks! Send email! Tell boss I won't be working tomorrow! Update the Internet!
Jason: "Amy, step AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER AND GET IN THE DAMN CAR."
I called my mom and in-laws on the way to the hospital. Jason drove and periodically quizzed me about my contractions. "Are they still happening? Is this really it? Should I turn around?"
We got to the hospital around quarter of two, about an hour after EVERY PREGNANT WOMAN IN THE DC METRO AREA ARRIVED. They were completely full and I was left out by the reception desk for a good 40 minutes. (At least no one made me give up my chair.)
Finally a nurse came and took me back –- to the fucking recovery room. They still had no birth suites available so I was stuck on a super-uncomfortable cot in a big huge room with a dozen other beds separated by curtains. There was no privacy and no toilet paper in the one communal bathroom. There was another couple two beds down hovering around their newborn so walking around the room was out, as I was still holding on to some shreds of my modesty at this point.
Two nurses (as in, one sort-of inept nurse and her terrifyingly inept trainee) came and hooked me up to the various monitors and asked me stupid questions that they then couldn’t figure out how to put my answers into the computer. Oh, and at first they put the monitors on backwards and upside down.
They asked if we'd taken any childbirth classes. I said no and started to tremble a little. What were we thinking? How could we not have taken any childbirth classes? I have no fucking clue what I’m doing and these contractions are getting bad and ow ow ow.
Then Terrifyingly Inept Trainee could not find my cervix. Sort-Of Inept Nurse found it and announced that I was three centimeters dilated and I could officially be admitted. Which meant Terrifyingly Inept Trainee needed to draw blood and hook me up to an IV.
I gave Jason a glance of sheer terror because I AM NOT SO SURE THIS IS THE HOSPITAL FOR ME AFTER ALL AND I DON'T CARE THAT THERE ARE JACUZZIS IN THE BIRTH SUITES BECAUSE THESE CLOWNS ARE GOING TO HAVE ME GIVE BIRTH IN THE HALLWAY PROBABLY. AND WHO GAVE THIS TEENAGER A NEEDLE?
The next hour or so was the longest of my life. The contractions quickly went from an uncomfortable tightening in my abdomen to shooting pain through my back and pelvis. The bed I was on was horrible and with the stupid monitors I could do nothing more than lie on my back, grip the mattress and moan and kick my legs like a child throwing a tantrum. Jason managed to get me on my side so he could rub my back.
Terrifyingly Inept Trainee watched Jason apply perfect counterpressure (while trying to figure out how to get my contractions to show up on the monitor before announcing that "I don't think this is the kind of monitor that can do that") and said bullshit, we'd obviously taken childbirth classes. Jason said no, but he did have this thing called "the Internet" and learned about it there.
It wasn't long before the contractions were so close together that one would barely bottom out before another one started. I tried to breathe deeply but couldn't and started to get a little hysterical. Jason pulled out the tennis ball. I swatted him away through gritted teeth, and then sobbed for him to come back.
I got out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom multiple times, dragging monitor cables behind me and no longer caring about the other people in the room or about the absolutely disgusting trail of bloody mucus plug that I left in my wake.
Terrifyingly Inept Trainee offered me a Nubain shot for the pain around 3 a.m. I was torn. I'd planned to forgo narcotics, but I'd also planned to be in a fucking ROOM where I could walk around freely (without showing my ass to an audience of new parents) and soak in a whirlpool tub at this stage of labor. I miserably accepted the shot.
"I'm sorry," I said to Jason. "I didn't want to do Nubain. I really didn't." Jason looked at me and back to the contraction monitor and then back at me. He probably said something comforting about being so proud of me, but his face clearly read: You are insane. Take the damn shot.
It was all pointless, anyway. The Nubain was fucking useless. It sort of helped with the back pain (that I was managing just fine with the help of Jason and his Magic Tennis Ball) (and are you getting just how awesome of a labor coach Jason was?) (he was so incredibly awesome), but I was still in way more pain than I expected.
By the time my room was ready, the contractions were extremely intense and extremely close together. I could barely catch my breath before another one would start ramping up. Yet no one checked my cervix again -– they kept mentioning how I'd seen the doctor the day before and hadn’t been dilated at all. The assumption was clear –- I was going to be laboring forever.
HA HA HA MOTHERFUCKERS.
I did, however, get assigned a Real Live Nurse in my real room –- and I realized that Sort-Of Inept and Terrifyingly Inept were just kind of floating glorified candystriper help. They set up a delivery tray in my room and brought me ice chips but a Real Live Nurse took over the important duties.
Like getting the plastic thingie for the toilet to measure my urine output. Except that she broke her finger while getting it and left me stranded in the bathroom for a good 15 minutes.
No, seriously. She helped me into the bathroom (where I looked longingly at the whirlpool tub, knowing deep down that I was past the point where that would help anything) and then told me to wait until she found a plastic thingie.
I yelled and howled and squatted down on the edge of the tub.
Jason came running in and I yelled at him to get out because GOD, I was not peeing on his shoes or something. He ignored me.
A different nurse flew in, plastic toilet thingie in hand. My nurse slammed her hand in a cabinet while getting it and had broken her finger. Or something. The point is: She completely forgot about the laboring, full-bladdered woman she’d left behind.
I got back in bed. I knew I should walk around or sit or stand or SOMETHING, but I was exhausted. I lay on my side, clutched the bedrail and suddenly started shaking from head to toe. My teeth chattered. The contractions forced out involuntary yelps and sobs. At some point I was given an oxygen mask because the baby’s heart rate was dropping.
I buzzed the nurse and asked for an epidural. It was 6 a.m. No one had checked my cervix since the initial check around 2 a.m. To the shock of everybody except me, I was over seven centimeters dilated and in transition.
"We, uh, better get your doctor in here." Replacement Real Live Nurse said.
Jason found a laminated poster explaining the stages of labor (in Spanish) and handed it to me. "This is you," he said, pointing at the last in a series of smiley faces demonstrating the pain level associated with each stage. The seven-to-10 centimeters face was red and angry and had lightening-bolt-like lines of symbolic pain shooting around it.
Through the pain, I was suddenly and enormously proud of myself. I'd assumed I'd be crying uncle and demanding the epidural by the time I got to the hospital. I never imagined making it to seven centimeters relatively unmedicated. (I refuse to count the Nubain because GOD, SO USELESS.)
And I briefly thought about not having the epidural. Not because I suddenly felt like Superwoman or because the contractions weren’t the Worst Thing I Have Ever Felt (they so were), but because I suddenly felt like a big fucking chicken about the whole needle-in-the-spine thing. The contractions were awful, but at least I knew what I was dealing with at this point. Needle-in-the-spine? Extremely scary all of a sudden.
Then another contraction hit and I was suddenly terrified that the anesthesiologist wouldn't get there in time.
I also realized that the worst and hardest work was still ahead of me: actually pushing the kid out. I felt the contractions in my back, which suggested that the baby was still posterior, despite all my efforts to get him to roll over. His head was still high and the nurse estimated that I would be pushing for two to three hours. There was no way I could do that unless I got some sleep and stopped the horrible shaking and blinding pain.
My doctor arrived at 6:30 a.m., in a suit. I was standing by the bed, bent over with my face buried in a pillow to muffle my howling. Jason rubbed my back with all his might, holding my hips while my legs shook and buckled beneath me. I lifted my head long enough to give my doctor an exhausted, deranged look before dropping back down to the bed. "Let's go see about that epidural," he said cheerfully. I moaned in response.
Jason leaned over and whispered in my ear to breathe and to not smother myself in the bedclothes.
Later he would tell me that, while it was scary and difficult for him to watch me go through everything, he was hit with a twinge of jealousy for what I got to experience. I completely understood, because even through the pain, I still understood that this was one of the most important things I would ever, ever experience. I kept repeating, silently and to myself, I'm in labor. I'm in labor. This is it.
The epidural arrived. I sat on the edge of the bed and clutched a pillow, trembling with fear and cold. No, hot! No, cold! Goddamn, contraction!
I felt the need to announce each contraction in case the anesthesiologist attempted to insert the needle during one, all but guaranteeing permanent paralysis or something because I couldn’t stay still.
The next thing I knew, the needle was in. I had one more contraction…and then nothing. I barely felt the needle at all. I don't know if this was due to the Nubain or just the relative ease of a big motherfucking needle in comparison to the contractions, but honestly, it hurt less than the IV needle.
Jason and I watched the next contraction on the monitor in amazement. I felt absolutely nothing.
My doctor came back in around 7:30 and checked my cervix. Nine centimeters. Holy shit. He had a scheduled c-section at 8 a.m. but decided to break my water anyway, figuring I wouldn't be ready to push until he was back.
I had a new nurse, who finally was both Competent and Contained No Broken Finger Bones. She broke the first bit of baddish news to me -– the amniotic fluid was full of meconium, and the baby was definitely posterior. No big deal, really –- a pediatrician would be on hand for the delivery to make sure the baby didn’t breathe in any meconium, but it's a fairly common hiccup during labor. (I knew this from watching hours and hours of those When Childbirth Attacks! shows on TLC and Discovery Health.) The posterior position meant a lot of pushing and a need to try alternative pushing positions to ensure my pelvis opened up enough.
Jason and I both slept until 9 a.m. when my doctor returned and pronounced me fully dilated and ready to push. Everybody seemed kind of amazed at how quickly I'd progressed and congratulated me like I had something to do with it, which RIGHT. If I had the ability to force my cervix to bend to my will, I'd have had this baby WEEKS AGO.
After making sure that I couldn't see my reflection in the television or in the viewfinder of the camcorder Jason set up in the corner of the room, I pulled my legs back and tried to wrap my mind around the idea that a baby was set to come out of my vagina.
Pushing with an epidural was bizarre. I couldn't feel anything down there and had no idea if I was actually doing anything at all. I worried that I would poop and thought about reminding Jason of the solemn vow to Never Discuss The Pooping On The Delivery Table I'd made him make months earlier. My nurse assured me that I was moving the baby and that I was an awesome pusher and couldn't believe this was my first baby and blah blah blah.
I pushed three or four times per contraction. She let me relax in between and kept praising my efforts. I pushed through three contractions and was trying to catch my breath when my doctor came in.
"I don't like how this is going." He said.
My jaw dropped. What did he mean? I was doing awesome! Was awesome pusher! Ask the nurse! She will tell you of my awesomeness!
It was at this point that Jason and I noticed the baby's heart rate on the monitor just past my doctor’s head. It was bad. Crazy bad. Every time I pushed his heartbeat would practically stop and he was still in obvious distress in between pushes. With hours of pushing still ahead of me and a posterior baby and a narrow pelvis and meconium in the fluid, my doctor gently took my hand and broke the news.
"I think you need a c-section. And I think you need it now."
I blinked back tears and my ears started to buzz. Hell no. I’d made it so far. I felt so close. He was wrong. Everything was fine. Just give me another hour.
Then I looked back at the baby's heart rate and nodded. "If that's what you think, then I trust you."
And suddenly, everything moved into crazy fast-forward mode. Jason was given scrubs and just a few minutes to change and grab the camcorder and camera. My nurse shaved me and told me it was okay to be disappointed. I nodded, let a couple tears out and then took deep breaths and said I just wanted the baby to be okay.
They wheeled me to the OR and moved me to the operating table. (After asking me if I could move myself, to which I could only stare at them all, I haven't felt my toes in three fucking hours so you? Are moving me onto that damn table yourselves.)
My arms were placed straight out, all crucifixion-like, as a new anesthesiologist started work. I was naked from the chest down and really, really wanted them to put the drape up so I wouldn't feel so exposed. The nurse started rubbing my massive belly with iodine and I asked about the drape. She said yes, there would be a drape. I asked if the drape could be put up immediately. She looked confused. "This is just iodine," she reminded me. I said yes, I know, please put up the drape.
I was much more comfortable with the drape. I don’t know why.
I stared at Jason. He said everything was going to be okay. I nodded but kept staring at him. "You're my focal point," I told him. "The books told me to have a focal point and you're it. So don't throw up or something."
Jason nodded but suddenly looked unsure of himself.
I didn't feel the incision. They mentioned feeling some pressure. I didn't feel that either.
Then suddenly I realized that the surgeon assisting my doctor was practically SITTING ON MY CHEST while they struggled to get the baby out. I gasped in pain because hello! Lungs! Ribcage! Other assorted vital organs! OWWWWWWWW.
"Look at that big head!" My doctor called out.
Some random nurse suddenly told Jason to stop videotaping for some reason. I muttered that we'd signed a form and they said it was okay, but Jason decided now was not the time to bring up forms and permission slips, as apparently? There was a hell of a lot of blood gushing out of me.
The initial incision wasn't been big enough for the baby's shoulders. ("We've got a baby linebacker in there," my doctor quipped.) They cut me further and then there was more of the lung-crushing pressure and then there was a baby crying.
And then I was crying, because there was A BABY CRYING AND IT WAS MY BABY.
My doctor peered over the drape. "Wow. That's a really big baby."
"He's PERFECT," Jason told me. "PERFECT."
The nurses announced his weight and the entire room gasped. "You’re so TINY!" squealed my labor nurse.
At some point my doctor informed us that, besides the obvious problem of that massive baby never, ever fitting through my pelvis, the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck. Each push had been pulling it tighter and tighter, which is why his heartbeat practically stopped every time I pushed. He took my hand and said we'd made the right decision.
Jason appeared behind him holding a tightly swaddled bundle.
I weakly reached out and touched his face. He was round and alert and looked just like the 4D ultrasound. His hair was damp and curly like Jason's.
"Oh my God." I said, "He is SUCH a Noah."
"I know," Jason said. "Look at how gorgeous he is."
And my newborn son grabbed my finger and didn't let go.