Saturday, May 23, 2009

Five Years and Two Days Ago

Five years and two days ago it was Friday, May 21, 2004, the day of Caitlin’s first ballet recital and one day after my EDD (estimated due date). Since EDDs are just that – estimates – it seemed totally sensible to schedule our big move for the next day, the 22nd.

(Did you know that a woman’s due date, calculated using only date of last menstrual period is not all that reliable an indicator of when her baby will be born? A birth that happens within two weeks before or after the EDD is considered full term. Calculating an EDD assumes a 28-day cycle and a 40-week gestation, yet we know that women’s bodies vary. 28 days and 40 weeks represent the top of the bell curve, yet many normal, healthy women fall on either side of that high point.)

Our old 2 bedroom apt was totally in shambles and our new 3 bedroom was not anywhere near ready to be moved into. But we were camping at my mom and dad’s house and were feeling pretty much ready for the baby to arrive anytime. The Bag was packed and all of Caitlin’s uniforms/costumes/schedules were under the auspices of the eminently capable Meema.

My due date came and went with very little notice and we all felt confident I’d be pregnant for at least another week. I wasn’t feeling anything at all – no warm-up contractions (please, it isn’t false labor!), no mucous plug, no bloody show, no nothing. Bring on the recital and moving.

Caitlin’s ballet recital was everything a 5 year old’s first recital should be (unmitigated cuteness), except that her mom was beginning to feel a bit loogie as it got underway. For some reason the ballet mavens made everyone wait outside the auditorium until mere minutes before show time, standing in line in a high school hallway. Yet we all had to be there much much earlier to drop off the tiny dancers so there I was, super pregnant and beginning to feel, well, loogie. I wanted to sit down, or better yet lie down, but I had to make do with a folding chair in the hallway. Awesome. Once we were seated and the show got underway the loogie-ness didn’t intensify, but it didn’t really dissipate either. I began to wonder if this might be the beginning of labor and I thought it probably was, but having never gone into labor spontaneously I really didn’t have any prior experience to go on.

During the show a massive thunderstorm kicked up and I remember riding home in the back of my parents’ minivan feeling so thankful that I could just go curl up in my big old childhood bed and sleep. Chris went back (was sent back?) to the old apartment to do more packing and I kept my suspicions of labor quiet. Caitlin had a soccer game in the morning and needed to go to bed, I didn’t want to get my mom worked up and I certainly didn’t want to do anything to stop Chris from doing more packing! As soon as I could, around 10, I climbed into bed and tried to sleep.

No dice. I was definitely feeling loogie. Pretty quickly I realized I was having contractions and decided to try timing them for a bit. Seemed like they were coming about 5 minutes apart and lasting about a minute, but there was a lot of variation so I didn’t think too much of it. (irony, huh, CBEs?) I stayed in bed and rode the waves – just closing my eyes, and going inside as each contraction came and went. Chris and I had taken a great birth class (the same one I was teaching last year) and learned all kinds of great labor coping strategies, but I didn’t feel like I needed anything other than the dark and quiet in which I could focus on my own. Looking back, I’m so glad I had the chance to be totally alone, and in a place where I felt completely safe and comfortable for the early part of labor. I have always loved listening to thunderstorms at night while snug in bed, and for me there is no bed that is more viscerally mine than the one in my parents’ house.

I hung out for about 2 hours, awake but resting, until Chris came back. I heard him downstairs talking to my mom and decided we needed to get the show on the road. From the reception I got when I came downstairs I must not have looked too happy, but I was feeling pretty alright at that point. I showed Chris the timing I had done and we decided to call the midwives.

I was being cared for by the UW Health CNM practice. At the time there were 7 women in practice together and while we had met all but one, we didn’t know who was going to be on call for my delivery. Happily, it was Erica, a young, no-nonsense midwife whom we liked and felt quite confident in. She was obviously sleepy when I talked to her and suggested I have a hot drink and try to go to sleep. I remember laughing at the idea, but gave it a shot. Chris says I had mere millimeters of the tea before announcing that it was time to go have a baby. We called back to let her know we were heading to the hospital. It was about 12:30am.

The storm was still going strong as we drove through the deserted city – lightning crashing all around us, and again, I remember feeling really eager and happy at the prospect of having a quiet, dark, cozy place to go curl up in. (Yes, I really did think of going to the hospital that way! We had nothing but positive associations with the place and with the midwives caring for me and a birth suite to birth in, I was confident that I would have the peace and privacy I needed, despite being in a hospital.) Since it was after midnight we came in through the emergency services entrance and were needlessly delayed by a receptionist who wanted to call me a wheelchair or some such nonsense.

Eventually we did make it past the gate and I chose to walk up to the Birthing Center, using the wheelchair as a luggage trolley instead. The walk was just fine and I was immediately seen in triage. Although I knew I was definitely in labor I was worried that it wasn’t strong enough, or productive enough to gain me admission and that I ‘d be sent back home. I really didn’t want to be sent home so after learning I was 5cm dilated and maybe 80% effaced, I asked, “So I don’t have to go home?” The nurse, who would stay with me for the rest of the labor laughed, said, “Not without a baby,” and showed us to our birth suite across the hall.

Because it was a hospital there was an awful lot of paperwork to deal with upfront. I tried to get comfortable as we went through the whole rigmarole but nothing was really working. Additionally, I had chosen to do the Strep B test (remember when it was optional?) and came up positive so I had to have IV antibiotics run in right off the bat too. Luckily, my nurse, Maradee was trained as doula before becoming a labor and delivery nurse so she was as speedy and unobtrusive as possible, always offering new ideas and pausing in her work to let me work through a contraction.

Erica the midwife sat back and just let Maradee do her thing at first, occasionally helping with a position change, backrub or some counter pressure. But as soon as the paperwork was done Erica had the Jacuzzi full, the twinkle lights up and lavender essential oil diffusing in the room. Chris put on Bob Dylan (Blood on the Tracks) and I hopped in the tub. Finally, about an hour after getting to the hospital, I had the cozy cave I wanted to curl up in.

Covered in a warm wet towel I closed my eyes, squeezed Chris’s hand and went deep inside as I rode out the rest of my labor. I didn’t talk or even really move, just lay in the tub and let labor happen. Assured that everything was on the right track I was able to totally let go and let my labor unfold.

I stayed in the tub for about 3 hours and then rather suddenly was seized with the conviction that it was time to push. RIGHT NOW. I got up out of the tub, drained all the water and moved to the bed, ready for action. Erica and Maradee had given me lots of space while I was in the tub and so were a bit surprised by the new development. Erica asked to check me before I started pushing and found that I wasn’t quite completely dilated, and not ready to push. There was another round of trying different positions and trying to get comfortable out of the tub but as before, nothing really worked. Finally someone suggested I go sit on the toilet and try to poop.

Honestly, this really made me mad – I didn’t need to poop, I needed to give birth! The only thing coming out was a baby. But I complied and sat and sat on the toilet, getting more and more uncomfortable, not pushing and not pooping. I hit transition with a vengeance and my frustration at being told to poop and not push turned into utter frustration and fury. I remember telling Erica, in no uncertain terms that I wanted an epidural, and when she told me it wasn’t going to happen, a cesarean. At some point I think I also informed her that I simply was NOT going to have a baby at all. Bless her heart, she took all my crap with such sweet calm patience, saying over and over again, “I hear what you’re saying Maggie, but it’s too late for that.”

Somehow this calmed me down a bit and I went back to insisting it was time for me to push.
We all shifted back to the bed and sure enough, I was completely dilated except for a little lip of cervix. Erica had me push a bit with a contraction while she tried to push the lip over the baby’s head, and it worked. I don’t remember feeling any great physical relief when I could finally push, but emotionally it was a huge comfort. Maradee had the back of the bed vertical and the squatting bar in place so I got into a supported squat/semi- recline position that worked really well for me, pulling up a bit to push and then laying back in between contractions. I was as loud while pushing, as I had been quiet during active labor, literally roaring through contractions and pushes. I remember yelling, “GET IT OOOOOUUUUUUUUT!!!!” at one point, as well as a few choice expletives, and just flat out roaring at others. I have no sense of how long I pushed, but Chris says it wasn’t more than about 4 before the baby started crowning.

I don’t remember any ‘ring of fire’ as the baby crowned, but I will never forget Ben’s cry the moment his head was born. We all laughed then and as I started to push with the next contraction Erica said, “Reach down and catch your baby!” Ben was born into my hands at 5:55 am.

I scooped him up so fast that no one could see if he was a boy or girl and I remember Maradee saying, “Whaddya get? Whaddya get?” I put Ben right to the breast and he started nursing like a champ. I remember looking up at Chris who was in tears and feeling a huge sense of relief bliss. I lay back, nursed Ben and started to check him out. A little bit of blonde fuzz on his head, all the right parts in all the right places and a bit chubby to boot – perfect baby. I remember looking up and finding the room flooded with sunlight, and smiling, remembering Chris’s wish to have the baby born to the opening notes of the Dead’s Here Comes Sunshine. With that I floated off into a blissful postpartum haze without another thought.

My body, though, was still hard at work. Chris cut Ben’s cord and my placenta was born shortly thereafter. Everything was normal and I remember watching with fascination as Erica gave us a guided tour of Ben’s former home and life support system. Then the next thing I remember was seeing a lot of concerned faces down at the foot of the bed. I was bleeding more than I needed to be and not showing signs of stopping. Ben was nursing and my uterus was still contracting but I was losing too much blood.

Erica snapped into uber-medical mode and took charge with such swiftness and authority that I didn’t even really realize what was happening or how potentially serious the situation was. I was given Pitocin to strengthen contractions and then Methergine. Erica and Maradee massaged my uterus (not nearly as pleasant as you might think) and when that didn’t work Erica had to manually check for fragments of retained placenta. (Even more unpleasant than you might think.) Everything seemed to be in order and shortly thereafter, the bleeding let up and the panic was over. In the end the blood loss was just short of being a technical hemorrhage and I recovered quickly without any further intervention.

Through it all I held onto Ben and kept nursing, not ever completely aware of what was going on. Chris was at my side, crying, admiring the baby and saying some of the sweetest things to me. After the excitement was over we got Ben washed and measured and started spreading the good news.

By about 8 we’d talk to our parents and by 10 Caitlin and my parents were visiting. Caitlin, still in her soccer uniform and baby doll in hand gracefully welcomed her baby brother, holding him so carefully and lovingly for as long as we’d let her. The rest of the morning is a bit fuzzy for me, but I do remember turning on Merle and Jerry’s Rainforest Suite and drifting off to a well-deserved rest, babe in arms, and with Chris at my side.

We stayed at the hospital for 2 days, watched over by the midwives, including Callie whom we especially loved, and a phenomenal night nurse whose name I have regrettably forgotten. Everything went a smoothly as possible postpartum – Ben nursed like a pro and I quickly got over the anemia my earlier blood loss caused. Ben stayed with us every moment and the three of us holed up in the birth suite, getting to know each other and resting up for the next big birthday, Caitlin’s 6th , just a week away.


Susannah said...

Oh, Mag. Tearfullest Nag Champa reading yet. Much love :)

Grandpa George said...

Hey Maggie,

We all loved this. Re the EDD, I actually do remember (Lamaze?) that 2 weeks is the norm, but I don't remember the length of the 2nd Standard Deviation. This is a great story for all of you.

BTW. we have been away (visiting Polyface Farm (see Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma) with Rick and Kay. Then we met Paul near C'ville and had dinner together last night. Can't wait til we can do this in Lexington. Polyface is very near Staunton, although there is QUITE A BIT OF COUNTRY after you leave I-64.

Heather! said...

love that you posted this. Can't believe our babies are five! love that photo of you two.

margaret said...

hey maggie,
i loved reading this. brought up many memories, both of when ben was born and lucy's arrival. i had so many comments as i read but haven't managed to keep them organized in my head so i'll reread and comment later. the picture is precious. can't believe that's ben in that tiny body. but, oh yes, i do remember holding that squirmy newborn in my arms.

Hannah said...

this is the best bit of writing i've read in quite some time (and from family, to boot!). i haven't seen y'all fartherlings in quite some time, and it made me feel so much closer. also something to remember if i ever have my own kids someday! i especially loved the part about the sunlight coming in, and the haze of happiness. what a life this is.