Monday, September 19, 2011

Labor and delivery: The sequel

Sure didn't mean to wait three months to write this! But I think I can recall most of the details. Nobody forgets that kind of pain, do they, GIGANTIC BABY ALEX?

You might remember that I wanted a drug-free birth with Mia, and that is what I got. (You can read about that here and here.) It was an amazing experience. When asked how I tolerated the pain without medication, I was one of those moms who would smile serenely and explain that the beauty of the natural birthing experience far outweighed any discomfort I may have felt.

That's not quite the answer I would give now.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. So my due date came and went with no sign of baby. I grew a bit anxious since my OB was starting to talk about an induction, and I wanted no part of that. We spent week 40 doing the whole spicy-food, long-walks thing. And on Friday, July 1, when I was five days overdue, I had labor-inducing acupuncture.

And then Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, they all passed without a single sign that a baby was on the way.

This timing was unfortunate. If we had the baby anywhere near the due date of June 25, we would have been free and clear of one of the worst times of the year in the Pizarro household: the Fourth of July. Every year, for the better part of a week, we have to console a terrified Chickenbone all night as neighborhood idiots send bottle rockets and firecrackers whizzing through the sky. We give Chickens sedatives, but they barely take the edge off. And of course, with Independence Day landing on a Monday this year, the fun began on Thursday and continued for five nights.

I prayed that I'd go into labor at a nice, early daytime hour so that at least Sal could be home by nightfall to take care of Chickens. The only way to keep him from barking and waking up Mia was to snuggle him beneath a mountain of blankets to muffle the sound, hugging him tightly at every pop and whistle. But, of course, I felt the first contraction at precisely 10 p.m. on Saturday night, when the pyrotechnics were in full swing.

I waited an hour before calling my doula, Kathy. The contractions were still 7 minutes apart, so she suggested that I try to get some sleep (ha!) and call her when they were 5 minutes apart. I worried about Sal going into all this with no rest, so I sent him to the couch for a nap. Then I laid down with Chickens in our bed, hoping the white noise of the fan in our bedroom would soothe him.

For the next hour I laid in the darkness with Chickens, clutching Sal's Timex in my hand and using the blue Indiglo light to time my contractions. When the pain was really bad, I closed my eyes and clung to Chickens and stroked his fur. I focused on his soft little ears to keep my mind off the increasingly intense pain. I'm sure he was in heaven. At least somebody was!

It was nearly midnight when we decided to leave for the hospital. My mother-in-law came to stay with Mia, and she brought grandpa to take over Chickens duty. We crept around the house very, very, very quietly, gathering our things and pausing for contractions. Which I got through very, very, very quietly. One of my biggest fears was Mia waking up to the commotion and getting scared. I didn't want to leave her crying. I have some experience with this: When we left for the hospital in a rather noisy fashion in October 2009, Chickens was whining and pacing with worry. I absolutely hated leaving him like that. But luckily the handoff to my in-laws went smoothly, and we were off to have a baby.

The rest happened so fast that it's hard to put together the play-by-play. We arrived at Kaiser Santa Clara just before 1:30 a.m. I remember a very long walk from the parking lot to the ER - this was Sal's fault, as for the second consecutive birth, he forgot there was expectant mother parking just steps away from the ER entrance. I kept having to stop for contractions. They were very intense and took my breath away, and I leaned on Sal to get through them. When we got to Labor and Delivery, despite the fact that I could barely stand and could not even speak through the contractions, they put me in observation to "make sure" I was ready for a room. Which I got promptly when they found out I was already dilated to 6 centimeters.

At this point, after 2 a.m., I truly believed getting out of the stuffy, horrible observation room would help. I thought the spacious L&D room with the rocking chair and my birthing ball would help. I thought my breathing and my husband and my doula would help. But none of it did.

And what especially didn't help was my nurse. This woman enraged me. She kept asking me questions and touching me and bugging me to lay down so she could put monitors on my stomach. When my water broke as I stood over the bed heaving through a contraction, she raced over with towels to clean me up. I roared at her to leave me alone. I could not stand the feel of those towels on the back of my legs. I couldn't stand for ANYTHING to touch my body.

What I really wanted was to get into the damn shower. That's where I spent a lot of my labor with Mia, and I figured that there I'd be able get on top of this excruciating pain. Before the nurse would let me go, though, she wanted to give me an IV. I declined, she was irritated, and we compromised on a hep-loc. As I leaned over the hospital bed groaning and straining through one contraction after another, I stuck my arm out and she jabbed the needle into the back of my hand and taped it to my skin. She didn't want it to get wet in the shower, so she unwrapped some gauze and began to wrap it around my hand. Then she unspooled some blue tape and wrapped my wrist. Then some more gauze. Then some more tape. Gauze. Tape. Gauze. Tape. Gauze. Tape. It felt like every time I raised my sweaty head from the sheets to look at her, she was calmly unwrapping more freaking gauze and tape. By the time she was through, she had fashioned this fat blue mitt that covered my entire hand and wrist. Right there in front of the nurse, I held up my clubbed hand, turned to my doula and spat, "Is she f---ing kidding with this?" I am not a very nice person when I am in labor.

(Side note: By the time the baby was born, the mitt and the needle were gone. I have no idea what happened to them, but I felt triumphant nonetheless.)

Unfortunately, the shower didn't work. Things were moving too fast for me to relax beneath the water. And sitting on the ball was excruciating. Literally the only position I could bear was to stand up and lean on things - Sal, my doula, the bed, the wall. And when the contractions piled up one right after another, when I knew I could not possibly bear another moment of this terrifying pain, I began to feel some hope. Because I knew I was in "transition" - the very worst part of labor - and that pushing, and the end, would come soon.

I have a very vivid memory from Mia's birth of transition fading away, of returning to my normal self again. I was able to talk and even smile during pushing. Later I even described it as "fun" - all those people cheering me on, the knowledge that my baby was just minutes away. So I was absolutely stunned when this didn't happen with Alex. Things just got worse.

I started to push before anybody was ready - again, my body just did the pushing all on its own. I was powerless to stop it. My doula talked me into laying down so they could check me, and sure enough I was 10 centimeters. Then the commotion began. The doctor rushed in. The lights came on and they dropped the end of the table down. And everyone started telling me it's time. It's here. Pushpushpushpush.

Except the problem was that the pain of transition had NOT faded away. In fact, it became more terrible than anything I have ever felt in my life. I felt like I was being split in two, and I was panicked and petrified. I tried so hard to do what everyone was telling me to do. To curl my body up into a C. To stay silent so that the energy would all go toward pushing, not howling. To bear down and push with all my might to get the baby out. But it felt like I was failing. My brain was trying to do things, but to me it seemed like nothing with my body was changing. When I pushed, it was agony. When I didn't, it was agony. The pain washed over me.

They told me the end was close, but I didn't believe them. That's how crazed I was from pain - I remember looking at all those faces telling me excitedly that the baby was coming out right now and thinking "Liars! Oh my god, why are you f---ers LYING to me?!?" (There were a lot of F-words shooting through my brain that night.) It actually crossed my mind that I may spend the rest of my life with that baby stuck right there in the chute because I wasn't strong enough to push it out.

And very suddenly, oh dear sweet Jesus, the relief! I felt a sort of pop, and then the most indescribable sensation of things ... pain, warmth, fluids, A PERSON ... came tumbling out of my body. I collapsed back on the bed, closed my eyes and laughed. That's how good it feels when the most horrific pain you have ever felt vanishes into thin air. I saw them lift the baby up and thought "Oh my god, is that balls?!" And then Sal looked at me, grinned and told me we had a boy.

A boy! A BOY?! I know it is dumb for any mom to be shocked at giving birth to either gender - there aren't exactly a ton of possibilities. But shocked I was. Alex was born at 3:39 a.m., and they let me hold him for over an hour before taking him to get weighed and cleaned. As I sat there telling my doula what a nightmare this birth was compared to Mia, the scaled flashed 9 pounds, 2 ounces, which pretty much explains everything. It was all Alex's fault! I have since forgiven him and we have agreed to live happily ever after.

Despite the trauma of this experience - the memory of the pain haunted me for days - I'm happy I didn't have drugs. If it was that hard to push Alex out while I could feel everything and had full control of my muscles and my senses, I can't imagine how I could have done it if anything had been muffled by an epidural. I'm convinced I would have ended up with an emergency C-section. But as it was, in no time at all I was walking around, wolfing down a plate of food and taking a blissfully hot shower. One nurse even asked me if I was certain I'd had a baby that morning.

Later Sal told me that mere minutes after the birth I turned to him and said "NEVER. AGAIN." All these many weeks later, I do still feel that way. Not because I'm afraid of going through all that again, but because Alex has made our family feel complete.