Many important things have happened to me in my life. God has helped me and been by my side all along the way. But today, I want to tell you about the single most important thing I've done. I helped a baby enter the world.
Let me tell you how it happened.
Pregnancy had gone swimmingly for me up until the last ten weeks or so. Seriously - no morning sickness, no nighttime bathroom visits, I even LOST weight in the first trimester (probably because I had to stop drinking beer). However, around thirty weeks, my blood pressure started creeping up. I began retaining a lot of fluid. My feet, hands, wrists and face were very swollen. Jeff and I had taken a Bradley birth class (best thing ever - please take one if you are even remotely interested in natural pregnancy and childbirth), so I wasn't stupid. I knew that this was probably spelling pre-eclampsia, which properly terrified me.
Our midwives, who are amazing people, didn't push me into an induction as some medical professionals might have done. Instead, they took a "conservative observation" stance and ordered lots of tests to make sure my organs and the baby were all holding up well. The non-stress and protein tests were all coming back good, and although I was advised to spend as much time as possible laying on my side, I agreed to meet my stepdad and his wife for dinner on Friday, April 1. I was thirty-nine weeks and one day - six days until they had been telling me this baby would make her appearance.
As I was walking out to my car to drive across town and meet them, I saw two boys riding their bikes down the street. I squinted into the evening sun and waved to them. Simultaneously, my right foot missed the final step onto our driveway, and I fell with all my gigantic pregnant weight full onto my belly. I had my cell phone in one hand and my purse in the other, so my belly truly broke my fall. The two bike-riding boys sped over to help me, and people poured out of the sketchy house across the street. Never in my life have I been so grateful for the suspiciously high turnover of people at that house - they all wanted to call an ambulance for me! I declined and drove myself the five blocks to the hospital, completely terrified, sobbing, covered in dirt and blood from my scratches, and not feeling the baby move.
When I arrived at St. Francis, I looked like a bedraggled tweedle-dee. I presented myself at Labor and Delivery and told them my story, taking those big heaving ragged sob-breaths. They hooked me up to a monitor for observation. Rita, my amazing nurse, calmed me down and told me the baby's heart rate was fantastic. I slowly began to feel her move again. They wanted to keep me for two hours, to make sure everything was okay. I felt like that was unnecessary - I still wanted to go eat dinner, as I was pregnant and starving. But they kept me. Finally, I was allowed to get up and go. But, when I stood up, I felt like I had peed my pants. I knew that this could not possibly have happened without my noticing. I told Rita, and she had my lay back down and check on this mystery fluid.
Pretty soon the mystery was solved - it was amniotic fluid, and we needed to get ready for the baby to be here! I was totally floored. This was not what I had planned, I had not felt a single contraction, Braxton-Hicks or otherwise, and I knew from my recent visits to the midwives that I was not in a good place for an induction. My cervix was high and closed, and trying to force the baby out would very likely end in surgery - my personal nightmare. Because of my high blood pressure, I knew I would be confined to bed, on my left side, for the duration of labor. Hospital policy was that the baby needed to be out within 24 hours, one way or another, or infection could begin to set in because of my broken waters. I began to wish I had never drawn attention to my amniotic fluid situation and just been able to go home. But it was too late. I called Jeff, who was thrilled to get this baby show on the road. It was about 6:00 on April 1.
They hooked me up to the many machines that would become my constant companions for the next 20 hours. IV, which was awful and made me feel like I couldn't bend my right arm; fetal monitor, which was awful and had to be dragged with me on my next 132890 trips to the bathroom; blood pressure cuff, which was awful and automatically squeezed my arm annoyingly hard every two minutes whether I was contracting or not. In case you can't tell, Jeff and I are planning a homebirth for next time.
Jeff soon arrived, jazzed about his role as my Bradley coach. We read through our birth plan with our nurses - the first six or seven items were already moot! Although we knew an induction was likely because I was not in any kind of active labor, we were still totally committed to making it through without any other medications. My generous midwives gave me until two the next morning to see if labor might kickstart on its own before starting the hellish Pitocin. I did crosswords, Jeff rested, and I even managed to close my eyes a little bit. I visualized my body opening and the baby emerging. I breathed deeply and willed my body to work calmly and effectively. At two, they checked on me, and I had made some progress on my own!! I hadn't really felt a contraction still, so I was shocked. I was allowed to go on by myself, in dark and calm and quiet, until five that morning. At that point, I had made no further progress, so Pitocin was started in my IV line.
It wasn't so bad at first. The nurse had been instructed to turn up the level of the drug every 20 minutes until I started pushing, but she had mercy on me in my unmedicated state and let it stay low as long as I was making progress. The contractions came hard and fast from the start, not at all like what I had heard natural labor was like. Honestly, what it felt like to me was that I had taken 20 laxative pills and was waiting for the damage to begin. Jeff coached me beautifully, although the stopwatch soon had to go because the beeping was driving me mad. We relaxed fully into each contraction. I continued to picture my body opening and softening.
We labored this way for about eight hours. I was making good progress, and then the midwife showed up. She had the nurse begin to turn the Pitocin up as she had been instructed. Things started to get a little hairy. My low vocalizations, which had been extremely effective at helping me through contractions and in communicating with Jeff where I was at, pain-wise, stopped being so effective (or low). I felt like an animal screeching in pain. I began to ask about my options for pain relief. I was offered stadol or an epidural. We declined the epidural, but I took a shot of stadol into my IV line. Stadol is a narcotic that lessens your perception of the pain you are feeling. For me, it didn't relieve the pain, but it allowed me to relax more fully between contractions. It also made me trip out. I was picturing all these colors. I felt like I was at a Pink Floyd laser light show. I was telling Jeff about the chickens we were raising (they aren't real), and how we needed to feed them. I was seeing contractions as shapes and colors. Honestly, it was pretty awesome! It took my mind off what was happening. The stadol lasted about an hour, and then it was time to push! I had insisted that the nurse check me, because something felt different - and I was right!
Pushing was very difficult for me. I think it was because the baby remained very high even when my cervix was totally open. It took about two hours. The first half-hour or so I didn't really push with my whole force, so I imagine that time was kind of wasted. Once I got the hang of pushing, things got better. I had to get to the point where I understood that I needed to push until it felt like my eyes were going to bulge out of my head. That was what got the job done. I was supposed to wait for contractions to push, but I just started inventing them so I could get the experience over with. Also increasing my frustration during second stage was that I felt like the circus had come to town. For almost all of labor, it had been just me, Jeff and occasionally our nurse. It had been dark and cool and calm and quiet. Now, suddenly, there was the midwife and the nurse and the midwife's assistant and probably a few other people all staring at me and there was a bright light pulled down from the ceiling and many people touching and encouraging me. They all meant well, but I just wanted to be alone. They also kept telling me I was almost there, when in reality it was another hour before the baby was born! I felt falsely encouraged. As you can tell, my perceptions were also in a strange, faraway labor-land. Finally, her head emerged! I remember shouting, "What do I do now?" I didn't want it to go back in and lose the progress! They told me to push again. I felt lots of bumpy lumpy slithering, and her body came out!! She was born. I was elated. I felt absolutely exhilarated. My heart was pumping and my adrenaline was up. I was sure that I would cry in this moment, but I didn't at all. I felt very far from tears. I was enthused, energized, ready to conquer the next challenge. It was 4:32 pm on Saturday, April 2. I had only been in active labor for eleven hours!
My memories after that fog up, but I know that Jeff was the one who began to tear up. He had to go take a walk to release some of his pent-up energy. His mom was outside the room, and she came into visit her first grandchild. They cut the cord after awhile, and waited several hours to weigh her and clean her. I began our first attempt at nursing (funny to think about now, as it is something that is absolutely second nature). Jeff brought me a taco salad - the first thing I had been allowed to eat in over a day. My stepdad and his wife brought us flowers. I had to be stitched up because I had a good-sized natural tear. I just held the baby close, with lots of blankets wrapping us up. I shook a lot - they told me this was normal as my circulatory system was adjusting to the lack of baby in my body. Vicki Jo Grammer was 7 pounds and 1 ounce, 18 1/4 inches. I think she was not ready to be born yet, or she would have been a little bigger. But, she really didn't have a lot of choice in the matter the way it turned out.
Everyone says that labor and birth won't go the way you plan it, and I knew that was going to be true. However, this was really, really far from what I had pictured happening. It makes quite a story, and one that I will be so proud to tell Vicki when she is old enough to ask how she came into the world. I am convinced that we owe our lack of surgery to the methods and techniques we learned in our Bradley class. My body cooperated with the Pitocin because I willed it to relax and open. The low, moaning, droning vocalizations were especially helpful in making it through contractions. And, I could absolutely not have held it together without Jeff. After all these years, he is very skilled in talking me down, and he displayed his talent in it for hours on end. I always knew we were a great team, and this was our single most shining moment of partnership.