It's become a tradition for me to publish my babies' birth stories on their first birthdays. I'm an all-the-gory-details kind of writer, so feel free to skip this series if words like "placenta" aren't your jam. I've broken this into four parts, and I'll be posting them over the next few days.
Jen, my seriously awesome nurse, pulled some strings and got me upgraded from my cramped, ugly, out-of-the-way hospital room to a seriously spacious and beautifully decorated corner suite.
Hunger began to gnaw at my insides around 2:00, despite my sneaking occasional snacks from Jay. I finally told Jen about my deal with my doctor and asked if she would be comfortable bringing me food and a drink of water. I was already on pitocin, my contractions gaining strength and speed at 2-3 minutes apart, so I was nervous she'd say no, but she brought me snacks and water refills without complaint or censure.
"Your doctor said you can have an epidural after you're dilated to a four," she said. "You're still at a three, though your cervix is thinning out considerably. I'm going to increase the pitocin a bit, and I'll check you in a couple hours."
The contractions grew stronger, and I finally started to feel them in my back and thighs. We turned on the TV and watched Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. I'd never watched that show before, but it helped distract me a little from my growing discomfort. By 4:00, I clenched my eyes shut and focused on breathing through each contraction, releasing each breath with a series of blows.
The baby was so active the entire time I was in labor that Jen was having a hard time keeping him on the monitor. I had nurses coming in my room several times an hour to adjust the sensors on my stomach, sometimes staying and fiddling with them for 20-30 minutes as Drew performed acrobatics inside of me.
At 4:30, Jen came in and checked me again.
"You're at a four," she said. "You can have an epidural now. Do you want me to get the anesthesiologist?"
I was hesitant. I didn't want the epidural to slow me down, and the pain was still manageable. Jen understood.
"You can wait as long as you want, but the anesthesiologist has a C-section at 6:00 and won't be available again until 7:00. If you want the epidural before that, you'll need to have it done by 5:30."
I was okay with waiting the hour to see how things progressed, but at that moment, as Jen turned to talk to a nurse who had just walked into the room, the baby gave an almighty thrash. There was an audible pop and a gush, and I yelped.
"Something just happened," I said to the startled nurses. The feeling was so intense and so weird that I couldn't immediately put words to it.
"Your water broke?" Jen asked, then confirmed. "I think I'd better get the ball rolling on this epidural right now; what do you think?"
I agreed, knowing how much more painful and accelerated labor would soon become.
The anesthesiologist had me lie on my side while he did his work. He was kind and talked me through it all. I hate getting epidurals--to me, it's the worst part of the labor process. The painful discomfort of it feels wrong somehow; the heavy pressure on the nerves in my lower half as the anesthetic is injected is unnatural.
I'd told him that my last epidural hadn't been strong enough, but I wish I hadn't because he gave me a high enough dose that after 15 minutes, I couldn't feel anything below my chest.
Jen checked me again as the epidural began to take hold. "You're at an 8," she said. "I'm going to call your doctor and tell him to get over here."
It was an eerie feeling, knowing that my body was laboring but being so detached from it. With both of my previous epidurals, I'd still felt the hard contracting in my abdomen enough to know when to push.
I was at a 10 as my doctor came in and gowned up. "I know you can't feel anything," he said. "Let's try a couple practice pushes, and then we can wait until some of the numbness wears off."
Jay and the new nurse (Jen had just left) held my legs. They may as well have been someone else's legs for all I could feel. My previous deliveries, I'd been able to wiggle my feet and even move my legs, but not this time.
"You're having a contraction," the doctor said. "Go ahead and push."
And I tried, but I felt nothing: no tightening of my abdominal wall, no clenching of my diaphragm. "Am I even doing it?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Keep going."
In the middle of the third contraction, he told me to stop pushing. "Do you want to feel your baby's head?" he asked.
I was surprised--I hadn't realized I was almost done. I'd refused the offer in my previous deliveries: with Kate it was too weird, and with Jayne I'd been in too much pain. This time, I reached down and felt, to my shock, not the tip of the baby's crowning scalp, but his whole head. It was surreal.
One more contraction and push, and Drew was born. They plopped him on my chest, Jay cut the cord, and my baby started squalling. He calmed after he warmed up, his skin pressed against mine.
The doctor delivered the placenta ("I think this is one of the biggest I've ever seen! It's enormous!") and showed it to me and Jay. I got one stitch--my first ever--and watched as Drew weighed in at nine pounds even.