A Birth Story: Iris Edition

Well, my two favorite people are upstairs dozing; the M took off Sunday, leaving groceries, clean sheets, and potted hyacinths in her wake. I have even breakfasted and showered. And the back door is open to the birds and breeze.

Must be time to regale you with tales of birth.

If I can remembered them. Am kind of living in a haze right now, which is SO every new parent’s badge, but I say it now with total humility and contrition: all that stuff about sleep deprivation and newborns is true. It’s less crazy-making than traditional insomnia… but only by the narrowest of margins. I asked Carl this morning how it’s possible to love being a mother so much during daylight hours and feel so bitterly frustrated by night.

The answer, of course, is vampirism.

Vampires, werewolves, trolls, and small babies.

Beware.

Super funny, Mom.

Anyway.

Tales of birth…

Carl had his first surgery early in the morning on our due date—February 26th. “When are you due?” one of the prep nurses asked us cheerfully, trying (I think) to take our minds off the surgery. “Today,” I said.

Oh,” she said.

Later, when I was out of the room, the anesthesiologist’s partner would ask the same question and give the more correct response—the four letter one that starts with F.

I left Carl at the hospital that night, went home and cried for a while. The surgery had gone well, but it would take a different type of surgery to remove my memory of seeing him that morning before the procedure, crooked and small-looking in a hospital bed with a gown tossed over him. They told us that he would need a second surgery, either the end of that week or the beginning of the next. If Iris came on her own it would be some time later that week. My OB office routinely induces babies after 1 week. In either scenario, Carl’s second surgery and Iris’s arrival had a high probability of coinciding. So I went home and cried.

I cried for about half an hour before it occurred to me that I did have some say in the matter. If Carl could ask to have his surgery scheduled next week, and I could ask to have the induction scheduled for Friday instead of Monday (assuming she didn’t come on her own before that), then the two events would definitely NOT overlap. And if the baby came on Friday, then my hospital stay would exactly coincide with the weekend when our friends and family would be most likely to be able to help out. Genius. I sent shot off a couple of manic texts with brow-raising phrases like I HAVE FIGURED IT ALL OUT, crawled back into bed, and conked right out.

Over the next few days I would come to question the wisdom of this plan, but once things got set they were sort of set for good, and that’s how I found myself showering late Thursday afternoon before hopping into Carl’s uncle’s minivan with Carl in the bench behind me and Cameron at the wheel.

“Maternity!” The hospital security officer said confidently as I climbed out.

“Emergency?” He asked more doubtfully as the side door slid open and Carl emerged.

We explained. We’re good at that by now.

They wheeled us up to maternity (apparently it’s policy that expectant mothers have to be wheeled?) and within the hour I had my IV in, two monitors strapped to my belly (so unawesome after even the first hour), and Pitocin started at a nice, mild dose. And then we waited.

And waited.

After 15 hours I was only 20% more effaced. Still 2cm. The contractions had gone from mild cramping to the real deal. But still very manageable. The doctor on call decided (cheerfully) that it was time to start a more “aggressive” approach, upping the Pitocin every 90 minutes and artificially breaking my water.

Which I wasn’t super thrilled about. I knew hospital policy would let me either labor for 30+ hours or go home… unless my water broke. Then the clock starts ticking.

One of those risks you take.

The doctor broke my water at 9am (not painful, btw) and started upping the Pitocin (quite painful). The night nurse had been more obsessive about the fetal monitor and my BP cuff,  but my day nurse was much more chillaxed about both, encouraged me to move and try different positions, even tracked down a birthing ball for me. Giving birth is intensely serious and significant work, but I would totally be lying if I said there wasn’t also a sense—not of fun—but of curiosity and heightened awareness. I don’t like roller coasters, heights, or extreme sports, but I imagine that people who do like them like them for similar reasons.

And then it got hard.

I had alway planned to go natural as long as possible, figuring that if millions of women could do it on their own I probably could too. Then again, I hadn’t planned to be induced with an “aggressive” Pitocin drip. I had planned to have Carl next to me, helping me through the contractions, not trapped on a bed across the room. I had planned to be well-rested, not on the tail end of 6 days of 4 hours or less.

It was mid afternoon, and I was still at 2cm. I said I’d try the Nubain.

Never try the Nubain.

I mean, it totally works. It’s an opioid. I instantly put my head down and started sleeping. It was a miracle! I was so relaxed! For about two minutes until the next contraction hit.

The pain was exactly the same. So in between contractions, when I was feeling fine anyway, I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, and then when the contractions came I would feel them just as strongly as ever.

Not to say Nubain doesn’t have it’s uses. It’s probably perfect for the woman across the hall from us who SCREAMED and GROANED and SHRIEKED for hours that morning. Not a confidence builder, although my nurse was reassuring. If I saw your contraction monitor from the nurse’s station I would expect you to be either pushing by now or ready to punch me in the face as soon as I walked in the room. You’re SO calm. You’re doing amazing. I wish some of the other ladies on this floor could see you…

I told them to stop the Nubain and, after due consideration (and a couple of really hard contractions) decided to try the epidural. It wasn’t an easy choice, because by this point I’ve read all the natural birthing books and know all about the “cascade of interventions,” and how epidurals are linked to higher c-section rates and other complications I really, really didn’t want. I strongly believe people need to make their own informed choices, and I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, but HOLY MOTHER OF MERCY. My epidural experience was fantastic.

The pain totally went away. And then I went to sleep. For two hours.

I can see how this would be a negative in the engaged-with-the-experience realm, but I had been engaged with a lot of experiences all week, including 18 hours of increasingly hard labor. A 2 hour power nap at that point felt miraculous. I woke up and Dr. Robinson (my favorite doctor) stopped by to say her shift was starting and to see where I was.

4cm! Woot!

The nurse had me try a couple of labor positions to help things along (and to avoid staying in one position for too long), and my sister-in-law Cindy showed up to be on hand in case Carl or I needed anything.

The awesome thing about my epidural—and I have no idea if this is normal for epidurals or not—was that while it completely blocked the pain of dilation up through transition, it didn’t interfere with anything after that. At first I just thought the epidural was wearing off. But this was a new kind of pain. A pushing pain.

I didn’t want to ask for another check, because I had been checked only two hours ago. But when your body wants to start pushing, you sort of have to push. I began, covertly, to push a little with each contraction.

The nurse came back and asked how things were going. I told her I was starting to feel the contractions again. The doctor, nurse midwife, and a bunch of students wandered in, and I admitted I was starting to feel pushy.

Dr. Robinson checked me.

I was 10cm and the baby was already descending. Things got suddenly very serious and very hyperactive. The bed was positioned. The table of instruments came out. People put blue surgical hats on. Somebody thought to pull Carl’s bed closer to mine so he could reach my hand.

I pushed for about an hour, and this is possibly oversharing, but if you should ever find yourself trying to push a baby into the world, I would heartily recommend the little mirror they sometimes place down there so you can actually see what you’re doing. There are few things more motivating than the first sight of that tiny, perfect, fluid-slick head.

Somebody put a warmed baby blanket on my chest, and I burst into tears. I don’t think I’d fully realized what it meant that I was going to have a baby until I felt that blanket go down.

The student nurse stationed on the right side of my bed started crying too. Guess I’m not used to this yet, she said, laughing and wiping her eyes. Later, after Iris came out and was being weighed and measured, I would look around the room and see tear tracks down Carl’s face, Cindy’s eyes ringed with damp mascara.

That was later. After an hour of pushing, both Iris and I were starting to spiral into distress. I felt dizzy, like I might pass out. Iris’s heart rate was spiking on the monitor. I don’t normally like to do that, Dr. Robinson would tell me later, but when I heard her say she was going to give me something to numb me, I knew she was about to cut me. That also wasn’t part of the plan, but you know what?

One more push after the cut, and the head was clear. Another push for the shoulders, and then the rest of her body came squirming out, like a sea creature caught in the weeds.

It was over. It was just beginning.

… That’s one version.

There are other stories in those hours—about Carl, about Cindy, who was amazing in the delivery room and even ended up cutting the cord (leading to a smattering of glowing texts over the following days. Nothing like the heady intimacy of going through delivery together). But this is one part of the whole.

It wasn’t what I planned or expected. But it was really, really good.

I don’t recommend the induction process to anyone, but looking back I would still do it that way—given our situation. I had a lot of insecurities about the epidural, but it turned out to give me exactly the break I needed. (I didn’t end up with a c-section. Iris scored an 8 and 9 on the Apgar and latched like a champ). Nor would I join an episiotomy fan club, but at that point in the game it was worth the four stitches at get Iris safely delivered in two pushes.

Anyway. You know it can’t have been that bad if my thought process afterwards was focused, not on disappointment, but on what I would or wouldn’t do differently some not-too-distant next time (Simple things for the most part, like: have a husband who is not vomiting from his own pain issues).

Anyway.

That’s how it happened. That’s how Iris was born.

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5 thoughts on “A Birth Story: Iris Edition

  1. Yay! Thanks for sharing all the details. I am such a hopeless birth junkie that I was dying to hear all about it. :p I think it sounds like you made some really solid choices for yourself and your family given a totally unexpected set of circumstances. That epidural was probably just the thing, which is crazy for a homebirther to say, but I’ve been told by several women now that they don’t think they could have survived their inductions without an epidural, something about that “aggressive” pitocin probably. Inductions change things, and your lack of sleep changed things, and having Carl in so much pain himself changed things, and I think you handled it all with bravery and wisdom.

    P.S. WordPress is evil, and will no longer let me comment with my real e-mail address without “signing in” which involves figuring out what in the world I set as my password ages ago when I linked my real e-mail address to a WordPress account. That sort of thing is just so much less pressing than eating chocolate, doing laundry, and reading fabulous books to my children, so I’m commenting with a fake address. Anyway, don’t try to send any e-mail to me there.

    P. P. S. When Iris gets bigger, you MUST read her The Year of Miss Agnes. Maybe you should even read it to yourself now. I’m in the middle of it. I got it from the library for Carissa, and we fight over who gets to read it. (I let her win because that’s what moms do.) Anyway, it is really, really well written, one of those children’s books that’s good enough to be just a “book” (which is how children’s books ought to be, but often isn’t). Both the main character and the idolized character in the story are female. It’s also just really inspiring about education and not letting your current circumstances dictate what you can do.

  2. What a great account. Super cool to hear all the ins and outs. A lot of things in our first births are pretty similar. Major doses of pit suck royally! No other way to put it. That’s a completely different, inhuman kind of contraction. I was super set on not having an epidural and I still honestly say that in our situation it was completely the right thing to do…and yes, it is heaven. I don’t regret it at all.

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