I’m not going to say it wasn’t hard. It was shorter than last time, if you just count from the induction start at 11:00pm on September 27 to the moment the baby came out of my body at 1:40pm on September 28. But let me back up.
One week and one day before the actual delivery, on a Thursday, September 20, I went into the hospital.
I went into my midwives’ office for my regular 33 week appointment. Right away, the nurse could tell something was wrong. I had swelled up with 17 lbs of fluid in the past two weeks since my last appointment. My blood pressure was high. There was a lot of protein in my urine. She sent me over to the labor and delivery floor in the hospital, where one of the midwives, Amy, was already checking on another mom. I called my husband, Greg, from the elevator, starting to cry because I knew something scary was happening even though I didn’t know what.
On the labor and delivery floor I was put in Exam Room 2, and given a gown to change into, and they started running some tests. Greg arrived and my blood pressure finally went down. Amy came in and told me I didn’t quite have preeclampsia yet, but I was “brewing.” They’d need to keep a close eye on me, and I had “risked out of” midwife care, so I had to be switched over to the OB office. They gave me steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop quicker. I’d heard of preeclampsia, knew it was a scary thing, had seen women die of it on Grey’s Anatomy. Midwife Amy spoke calmly, but also told me all the information. They hoped I would get to 37 weeks, because the baby would be considered “term” by that point, but it was very possible I would need to give birth sooner for my own safety. If I needed to deliver before 37 weeks I’d be sent to Albany Med, a larger hospital more equipped to handle preeclampsia and a NICU where my preemie would be taken care of.
The following week I came into the hospital almost every day to be checked: blood pressure, weight (went up at least a couple pounds every day in fluid retention), pulse ox, urine, blood work to check my liver and kidney functions, ultrasounds to see how the baby was doing. My new OB told me I officially had preeclampsia, but she thought I could get to 37 weeks, getting checked a couple times a week. I burst into tears at this. I was feeling so horrible, so uncomfortable, and really like I could barely make it another day.
My sister arrived on Wednesday evening, September 26. I had called her on Sunday and asked her to come. I just knew I needed her, and she booked a ticket right away. I kept telling myself I just needed to wait until Phoebe arrived. Also, each day when I left the house, I looked at my little Mexican sunflower plant, with a bloom getting closer and closer to opening, and said to myself, when the sunflower bloom opens, that is the day I will have the baby.
On Thursday September 27 around 11am, I was resting at home by myself. Our 2.5 year old, Giles, was with Greg’s parents, Greg was at work, Phoebe and my dad were at my dad’s house, about to be on their way over to hang out with me. I started seeing spots in front of my eyes. This was a symptom I’d been told to watch out for, so I called my doctor and she said to come in. Greg came home and we went to the hospital, Phoebe and my dad met us there. When we walked out our front door to get in the car I looked at the sunflower and the bloom had opened. I knew this was it. We hung out at the hospital for several hours while my blood pressure was repeatedly checked, along with all the other things they were checking. My OB called the high risk doctors at Albany Med who said I should be sent there right away.
I rode in the ambulance along with a nurse, while Greg, Phoebe, and my dad had to drive separately. It was my first ambulance ride. I felt uncomfortable and scared, but the Ambulance drivers and nurse were really nice. We arrived at 7:00pm, just as the nurses were changing shifts. The nurse who had just come on duty was Rosa, and she would be with me for the next twelve hours. She took my vitals– my blood pressure readings were all very high. Dr. Aziz, the resident on duty, came in to examine me. I was nervous about it hurting, and she said, “Don’t worry. I have small hands and a gentle touch.” She was right, and she was awesome. She told us that they were going to start the induction right away, that my BP was just too high.
The first step of induction was inserting a Foley balloon into my cervix to start contractions and the cervix opening. It was very uncomfortable and I cried a lot. Phoebe and Greg were on each side of me, holding my hands. My dad waited outside the room. Dr. Aziz had to start over three times, which she felt really badly about. My cervix was tilted away from her and she had trouble seeing, plus I was clenching, even though I tried hard not to. During the third try Greg read out loud to me from Outlander book 8 which helped settle me enough to relax a bit and finally the balloon was in. This was around 11:00pm.
They said it could take around twelve hours for the balloon to do its work, so after talking for a little while, Phoebe and Pops left to go home and would come back the next day. It was around midnight now, and Greg and I settled in for the long night, he on a couch next to my hospital bed. Rosa checked me regularly, and I was hooked up to magnesium sulfate through an IV. We watched TV, some show I don’t remember and then Maid in Manhattan starring Jennifer Lopez. I started having contractions, the early ones that feel familiar to my first birth experience. Several minutes apart, and not too terrible pain-wise. I breathed through each one and felt like I could really do this thing. I hadn’t eaten since 3pm Thursday, and was very hungry, but could only have clear liquids at this point. Luckily Rosa mentioned that Jello was considered a clear liquid and brought me some. “We only have cherry,” she said, and I devoured two cups. That Jello saved me. My weakness from not eating for several hours, and not sleeping for several weeks was adding up and my body was depleted. The calories from that Jello, and even the simple act of eating something, revived my spirit. That Jello was the best thing I had ever eaten.
During this time the anesthesia guy came in to talk to us, and I told him about my previous epidural experience– how it only lasted a few hours and then I was told I couldn’t have any more. Also a NICU pediatrician came to talk to us about what would happen with the baby, and we signed some papers. Rosa was checking me regularly, tugging on the balloon, and a resident checked my dilation. Another doctor came in to do an ultrasound to check on the baby, and she told us that I had lots of fluid in my uterus (not a big surprise considering how much fluid I had everywhere in my body). Not a dangerous amount, but the high side of normal.
Around 4:00am the balloon came out. The resident on duty checked my cervix and I was 5cm dilated. This seemed to happen more quickly than anyone expected. Greg texted Pops and Phoebe to come back, because we figured things would start to move even faster at this point. Rosa started Pitocin in my IV, just a little at first. Anesthesia guy Chris came back to administer the epidural. I was sitting on the bed, Chris behind me, Greg and Rosa in front of me. I had to hold very still in a weird crouched over position. Because of all the fluid, Chris had a hard time finding the right spot for the epidural catheter and it took a really long time, maybe 45 minutes. Greg held my hand, Rosa talked to me, trying to distract me. At one point Rosa and Greg were laughing, and looking at the TV behind me. “I think it’s an infomercial for a dildo,” Greg said. “Well, she looks happy,” Rosa said. The infomercial went on the whole time Chris was administering the epidural. I was still having contractions every few minutes, and they were still manageable, but I called out loudly each time one happened so Chris would stop sticking me with the needle while I breathed through it. Finally the epidural was in and I started to feel that blissful numbness.
Pitocin kept increasing, and I had contractions but didn’t feel them. It was great. I love pain medication. Pops and Phoebe came back. Phoebe read to me from magazines, and told stories. The three of them talked and I just closed my eyes and listened. At 7:00am Rosa’s shift ended and our new nurse, Jen, came in. I was nervous– Rosa had been with us this whole time and she was so amazing. I didn’t want her to leave. But right away I saw that Jen was also amazing. She was concerned about the fluid in my lungs which made me short of breath, so she kept checking that. When the attending OB came in to check my cervix, it was very uncomfortable. He had large hands and the exam was rough and fast. As soon as he left the room my eyes teared up and I told Jen I didn’t want him to examine me again. She looked at me and asked if I had any trauma that I wanted her to know about. “No, his hands are just too big,” I said. Jen smiled and said quietly that everyone commented about that with him. She said she’d find me a woman for the next exam.
As the Pitocin increased I began to feel my contractions again. I maxed out my epidural button and was still in pain, getting worse. Around 10:30am it was pretty bad and I started crying. Jen called in anesthesia, and it was a different guy– Phoebe called him and his team of med students the “Pain Posse.” He redid my epidural, which he said was in the wrong place. He asked me questions about the pain, actually listening to me. (This was the opposite of my experience with Giles’ birth at a different hospital). The epidural replacement worked a little bit, but only for a short time, and the contractions were coming harder and faster now, with lots of pain in my back. Jen positioned me on my side with a “peanut ball” between my legs to help the baby descend faster. They were waiting for the head to be lower so they could break my water.
The pain was getting worse and worse, with so little time between contractions. I felt so incredibly weak, like I couldn’t keep this up much longer. I started to lose it a little but, crying and begging for help. Jen was so responsive. Every time she asked, “Are you in pain, or are you scared?” And when I said both, she asked, “What are you scared of? Where is the pain?” She reassured me that everything was okay, I was safe, she was monitoring me very closely. She barely ever left the room. The Pain Posse came back, and tried different drugs to help with the pain. They took the edge off for short periods of time, but the pain would always get worse again. I kept my eyes closed, so inside myself. I felt I would die from the pain, and said so. Jen assured me that I would not. I wanted a c-section. I wanted the baby out as quickly as possible, I didn’t care how they did it. I didn’t think I could do it, I had nothing left in me. Everyone (there were more people in the room at this point) said I could do it, that I was doing it. Greg and Phoebe were right by my side, I held at least one of their hands at all times. I had banished Pops to the waiting room as soon as the contractions started getting really bad. My eyes remained closed, my face too swollen to open them, and when I did open them everything was blurry. My butt started to hurt– there was an urge to push that was so strong, something I never felt in my labor with Giles. Somehow I thought that I wasn’t allowed to push yet, that if they hadn’t broken my water yet I still had a long way to go. I was on my side, holding my butt with one hand. “I’m holding it in!” I said at one point. I felt like a wild animal, thrashing and sweating and crying loudly. I went deep inside myself, to a really dark place where I didn’t care about anything or anyone except making the pain stop. I called for help. Dr. Phillips (the OB resident who had come in to do the delivery) said, “We are all here to help you, Anna, but you are driving this car.” Finally I yelled that I needed to push. They started adjusting the table for delivery, and hands moved my legs for me, trying to get me on my back. The baby must have been low enough by now, because Dr. Phillips said, “I’m breaking your water.” I felt and heard the huge splash. Someone said, “Woah!” (I think it was Phoebe?) Then I just started pushing because I absolutely had to. No one told me not to. Phoebe counted while I pushed. I heard someone say, “You’ll be done in two minutes.” I knew this was a smaller baby, so much smaller than last time, and that thought pushed me forward. I pushed, feeling the head come out, and then another push and there was the body. It only took a few minutes.
As soon as the baby was out I relaxed back and immediately felt relief. My eyes were still closed. I heard someone in the distance say, “It’s a boy!” I was so surprised. They took him to a side room to work on him. Dr. Phillips stitched me up quickly, there was not much tearing. Then they started to work on getting my placenta out. I thought to ask, “Is he okay?” (meaning the baby). A nurse asked for me phone, Phoebe gave it to her, and she took a couple pictures of him. “His name is Felix,” I said, looking at Greg. It was a name we had decided on the day before, in case the baby was a boy (though we were convinced it was a girl). They wheeled him by my bed on their way to the NICU, pausing for a moment so I could see him. I couldn’t really see much, but I called out, “I love you!” Or at least I did in my mind.
My placenta had torn and wasn’t coming out. Jen offered me morphine and I said “Yes.” Dr. Phillips was elbow deep in my uterus, getting every last bit of placenta. It took awhile and was uncomfortable to say the least, but the morphine had me in a cloud, and I knew that my part in this was over.
Everyone was telling me how great I had done, but I felt like a weak failure, a shell of a woman, someone who could not handle giving birth in the strong way that other women could. I said I wanted a pizza. Jen said I could eat, but to take it slow. She cleaned me up. All the other people left the room. Pops came back. I ate some popcorn and drank some juice and promptly threw it all up.
Once I could be moved into a wheel chair we were transferred into a recovery room. Jen called down to the NICU to check on Felix. Greg, Phoebe, and Pops went down to see him. I wasn’t allowed to because of my blood pressure being so high. I was still hooked up to the magnesium sulfate and would be for 24 hours longer. The next morning was the first time I got to see and hold Felix. I was wheeled down by a nurse, Greg was with me too. When they finally placed him in my arms and I saw his face, eyes dark and bright, hair blonde and soft, skin a ruddy color. His mouth looked like mine. It’s you, I thought. It was you this whole time. He looked so, so tiny. 4 lbs 1 oz. My eyes filled with tears.
this is me, right after giving birth, eating popcorn (right before throwing it all up)
holding Felix for the first time
Felix Wolf Moriarty-Lev-Howard, on his first day of life, in the NICU