I personally love a good birth story - even hearing horror stories about labor during my pregnancy didn't really bother me much - and so I'm going to share Nicole's story here. Kudos to you if you read the whole thing :P I considered breaking it up into sections, but I'd rather just get it all out at once. I could be more detailed, but the post is long enough as it is.
Anyways. Let's rewind to a couple weeks ago... does this picture look familiar? :) This was taken the day the ball started rolling.
On Wednesday, December 3rd I had a prenatal appointment around lunchtime. I was 40 1/2 weeks along, 2 cm dilated and 70% effaced, so my doctor thought there was an excellent chance that the baby would arrive in the next few days. We arranged for me to be induced that coming Monday though, just in case.
I arrived back home, had lunch, shared the doctor's news with my mom, and then decided to type out a 40 week "bumpdate" blog post while watching Sense and Sensibility. Every now and then during the movie I felt a light contraction. However, the contractions didn't seem long, regular, or painful to me - so I didn't really pay much attention to them. Doug got home early that day (later he told me that he just had a feeling that he should come home early), I had him take a couple pictures (such as the one above) for the blog post, and published my very last "bumpdate".
By then it was nearly dinner time and I was still feeling contractions every now and then. My mom texted me around 5:30 asking if there were any signs and I told her about the light contractions I was feeling. She encouraged me to start timing them, and so I did... even though I was sure that there would be no pattern to them. I was wrong. The contractions were coming about every 10 minutes and lasting around 35-40 seconds. I was very surprised - I was in the early stages of labor and didn't even realize it!
Over the next 2 hours, the contractions grew closer together, longer, and a little more painful. By 8:00 they were 4-5 minutes apart, lasting nearly a minute each, and I had to sit and use my Lamaze breathing to get through each one. We grabbed our bags and headed to the hospital at that point. They let me right in and got me settled in a bed so they could check me... I was 3 (almost 4) cms dilated and 100% effaced!
Now came the big decision - epidural? Or no epidural? I had really wanted to try a meds-free delivery, but there was a little surgery of sorts that I needed to have during my labor. Without going into detail, I'll tell you that I did not want to feel that surgery. Looking back, I could've probably used a local anesthetic instead of getting a full-blown epidural, but the thought never crossed my mind.
Unfortunately, the nurse left my room while I was dealing with a contraction, so I didn't get to put in my epidural request. It was a very busy night at the hospital - 8 other women had been admitted before me during the first 2 hours of the evening shift alone - and so my nurse didn't return for over an hour. During this time, my contractions became about 1-2 minutes apart and were at their most painful intensity. Looking back, I was managing the pain pretty well with my breathing. Doug sat there next to me and coached me through each contraction, helping me keep my breathing slower and providing his hand for me to squeeze. I didn't like that the nurse was keeping me waiting though. We kept pressing the button on the bed to call the nurse in, but nobody was responding, so Doug finally stuck his head out in the hall to inform them that my contractions were really close together and I still didn't have my epidural.
Turns out the "call the nurse" button on my bed was broken. Go figure.
Before I could have an epidural, I had to get an IV in my hand so that they could pump some fluids into me. It took soooo long for the whole bag of fluid to drain into my body, but I was finally able to get my epidural around 11:30. At this point, Doug's mom had arrived to lend support and a helping hand since my own mommy was still stranded out in California. The anesthesiologist gave me a second chance to change my mind and say no to the epidural, but my mind was made up. I did not want to feel that surgery. So... in went the big needle! It was not as bad as people make it out to be. I think getting the IV was more painful, personally. The epidural took around 10 minutes to kick in, so I still had to breathe through several more contractions.
Having an epidural is such a weird sensation, you guys. My legs got all numb and tingly, but I didn't completely lose feeling. The anesthesiologist did a great job on the epidural and left me with just enough feeling that I could still tell when I was having a contraction because I could feel a pressure in my abdominal area, but it didn't hurt.
Then I had to play the waiting game again. That's when Doug went ahead and snapped a couple pics. I sat for 2 more hours while the nurses and my doctor helped other patients. They came in at some point to rupture my membranes, which hadn't broken on their own yet, and then by 2:00 AM the nurse announced that I was ready to push. I personally think I could have started pushing before then, but oh well.
Once I started pushing, my contractions started getting weaker and further apart. The nurse was worried because that doesn't usually happen, I guess, so she gave me a small dose of Pitocin to encourage my body to keep the contractions coming.
My pushing lasted for 3 hours. During this time, the doctor performed the little surgery that I mentioned. He worked on it between pushes, which made me even more glad that I had an epidural; otherwise I would have had no break from pain and discomfort because he was snipping and stitching me during those precious moments when my body got a break from pushing. It was a rather bloody surgery. Even Doug's mom, who is a big advocate of natural birth, admitted afterwards that she was glad I had an epidural for that surgery.
3 hours of pushing, though.
I blame the epidural for that.
I could still feel when to push, so that wasn't the problem - the problem was that I couldn't tell if I was pushing correctly. I had to depend on the doctor, nurse, Doug, and his mom to tell me if I was doing it right or not - but as soon as I did one "correct" push, I forgot what I had done to make it correct. Doug and his mom were on either side of me to help support me, and at about the 1.5 hour mark you could see a little head of hair emerge with each push before sliding back in again. Doug was so excited when he first saw that little head.
I made no progress between the 2 and 3 hour mark. The baby stayed right where she was. The nurses brought in a mirror so that I could see what was going on. They thought it might help me push more effectively.
So the doctor suggested using a vacuum or forceps. After discussing the positives and negatives, as well as considering how little progress I was making and how each push wore me out a little more, I decided a little help was necessary; I chose forceps. Once the forceps were attached, it only took 5 more pushes to get her out. (With the forceps helping, I could all of a sudden feel exactly where I needed to push. Of course. It only took me 3 hours to figure it out.) After the last push, there was the strangest sensation of feeling a large mass of baby slide right out of my uterus... and then at 4:49 AM I heard her first little cry.
That first cry was magic.
I sat there, exhausted, and struggled to see over my belly. The doctor was holding my baby girl in the glaring white lights of the hospital room. The two surgery bulbs were like spotlights announcing the debut of that chunky baby gasping for air, her little body still grey and covered in white goo. I felt this strong surge of emotion and was holding back tears as the doctor, after sucking some fluid from her nose and mouth, placed her up on my belly while the umbilical cord continued to pulse and the nurses brought over warm towels to cover her and clean her off as she cried weakly. Once the doctor was ready to clamp the cord, they scooted her up a little more so that she was against my chest instead of my belly. I got to hold my little girl for a few more seconds while Doug helped cut the cord...
And then they were taking her away from me.
Bringing out oxygen masks.
Talking about breathing problems and the NICU.
My placenta was delivered and as the doctor began stitching up my second degree tear, I watched them bring in a NICU bassinet, place my baby in it, and roll her away with Doug hot on their heels. My mother-in-law had to leave, my doctor left to help the next patient, and after a while my nurse left too.
I was completely alone.
For the first time in 9 months, I was entirely by myself. There was no little human inside me keeping me constant company... and there was no little human in my hospital room. There was no one.
Alone. Empty. Exhausted.
My brain shut down and became as numb as my legs (which were starting to get some feeling back into them now that the epidural had been shut off). I lay and waited for nearly 2 hours before I got news from Doug about our little baby's condition. Respiratory distress. Hooked up to machines to make it easier for her to breathe. An infection of some sort. They would run tests so they could figure it out and get her put on antibiotics. Doug sent me this picture from his phone:
Doug came back in my room soon after and fell right asleep on the couch/bed. I tried to sleep. I ended up in tears. Everything blurs from there. At some point when the epidural had more or less worn off, my nurse helped me go to the bathroom. I was so swollen that I couldn't pee on my own, so they stuck a catheter in me and I had to keep it there until halfway through the following day. They also had me start pumping to begin building my milk supply. I couldn't feed my baby yet because of her tubes (they were keeping her blood sugar stable though) so I had to resort to other measures to make sure I established my milk supply.
I didn't get moved to a recovery room until 3:30 that afternoon because the hospital was so full. That was about the time that I finally got to go to the NICU and see my baby. They wouldn't let me hold her, but I could reach out and hold her little hand and stroke her head.
Leaving the NICU to go back to my room resulted in tears. But, after a nice nap and a hospital food dinner, I was able to go back and see her again. Mmmm. That hospital food. HA! The food was hit-and-miss but I really liked the mashed potatoes and gravy... but it would be pretty difficult to mess up potatoes and gravy.
These pics kind of capture how tired I was. So tired. I didn't even make an effort to smile or pose for the camera.
It was interesting to hear the nurses give their reports to each other at the shift change every 12 hours. My nurse would tell the next nurse taking over that my delivery was rough (because of the 3 hours of pushing, forceps, surgery, tearing... blah blah blah) but I feel like delivery wasn't that bad. Recovery is worse, in my opinion. Even so... the nurses were surprised I wasn't asking for additional pain killers. They kept reminding me additional medication was available. I really didn't need it though.
Nicole had her tubing changed to something smaller that evening... so on Friday morning I was able to finally hold her! This is the very first picture ever taken of me with my baby.
All of the tubes and wires made me feel like I had to be extra careful with her. Doug got to hold her too, and then we weren't able to hold her again until evening because they had a "hold her once per 12 hour shift" rule or something. I felt like Friday was a good day, though. I got the catheter out, and I finally got to take a shower. Ooooh, that shower was amazing.
Saturday. I was discharged. My baby was not.
It didn't feel right to drive away from the hospital with that empty baby seat sitting in the rear of the car. I managed to hold myself together until we got through the door of our apartment, and then the bawling started. The rest of Saturday was a blur of showering, napping, pumping, and crying. We got to go back to the NICU in the evening to hold her again, and of course the waterworks started up once more the moment we left. They say day 3 of recovery is when the hormones hit the worst, anyways... but still. Leaving my baby alone in the NICU was hard, regardless of my hormone levels.
Day 4 (Sunday) was pretty good though! They lifted the restriction on holding Nicole, so I was able to hold her whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted. They finally allowed my NICU guests to hold her too. I was able to nurse her for the first time that afternoon, and she caught on straight away. This girl eats like a champion, let me tell ya. Before then, they'd just been taking some of the colostrum I pumped and squeezing it into her mouth, then putting a pacifier in to make her suck and swallow. It was nice to finally have that opportunity to bond with her, even if it was several days delayed.
My mom (who managed to finally fly out on Friday evening) spent the night in the NICU with me on Sunday so that I could be there to nurse Nicole every 3 hours. That was a long, tiring night - they didn't even put us in a room. I was given a recliner chair, my mom had a rocking chair, and we tried to sleep in those chairs next to her bassinet between feedings. SUCH a long night. My mom finally got to hold her first granddaughter though... and Nicole loved to finally be held so much.
Mom stayed with me until she had to catch her returning flight on Monday evening. It was a big help having her there, it's as if my hormones disappeared the whole time I was with my mom because I didn't cry once. Mommies are awesome. Nicole had her first sponge bath that day too... she was fairly well-behaved during it.
Then my mom was gone and I was alone in the NICU. The tears returned that night. Doug still had school and work and needed to do laundry and groceries... and I really needed sleep. The hospital was too far away for me to come back and forth every 3 hours; I would never sleep that way. So I gave the NICU permission to give Nicole bottles of some of the milk I'd pumped and went home to get some uninterrupted sleep. It was only 5 hours (yes, I skipped pumping. Sue me.) but it made such a difference. I was back at the NICU bright and early Tuesday morning to feed my baby again, and Doug joined me by lunch time.
Nicole had her hearing test, heart test, and had to sit in her car seat for 1.5 hours without being taken out - it's some test that all NICU babies have to do, I guess. She was so patient during her tests, and then we got the all-clear to take her home!!!! The doctors had actually been telling me that I would need to spend one more night in the NICU with Nicole, and that they would (finally) put us in a room with meals and she could sleep in the room with us without any nurses popping in or moniters hooked up to her... but that seemed really unnecessary to us, and so Doug did a little pushing and the doctors let us take her home that afternoon instead of the following morning.
My physical recovery is going great. I already feel like I could go dance again or something. I did end up getting a UTI (probably because of the catheter) despite the large amount of cranberry juice I drank to try preventing it. It's all cleared up now, thankfully. My emotional recovery, thanks to the hormones, seemed to be taking a while, but this past Thursday was a turning point and I've been a lot happier the past several days. Let me tell ya, though... Doug would get home from school/work, I would hand him the baby, then I'd break down bawling for a while. Not to mention I'm a new mom, so of course I'm continually worrying about the tiniest things. But things get better by the day, they really do!
And... I mean... look at that face. Even when she's furious at me for doing tummy time, she's still so cute and SO worth it!