Charlotte will turn two in a little less than three weeks, and I figure it’s high time I sit down and write about her birthday. As you all know very well, Chris and I were so lucky to end up with a perfectly healthy and beautiful baby girl, but her birthday dredges up some mixed feelings that I haven’t had the easiest time dealing with. It took me the better half of a year to feel okay about it, which is why I’ve waited so long to put the story to paper. It just wasn’t going to happen within those first six months.
While pregnant, my thoughts about childbirth were probably typical of many women: the idea of an unmedicated, natural childbirth was nice, but I wasn’t opposed to an epidural or other pain meds if needed. I knew not to make a firm plan because we all know what happens to those. I figured I would leave the major decisions up to myself in the moment because that is the only time I’d really know what I needed.
Chris and I took a childbirth class at the hospital where we heard (and watched on film) all the gory details about…everything. Basically, after the nurse was through talking about vaginal births (and forceps and stitches, etc.), I decided I wanted a c-section. But after we learned more about c-sections (and staples and scars, etc.), I decided I’d rather just keep Charlotte in my stomach. Less mess.
When it came down to it, though, I knew that worrying about childbirth was a waste of time; it was going to happen and I was going to have to get our baby out in some way or another.
(Actually, do you want to know what really scared me the most? The I.V. Yes, the idea of an I.V. was far more terrifying than a child coming out of me. More on this later.)
That being said, even though I wasn’t vehemently opposed to a c-section, I didn’t actually think I’d have to have one. My tiny mom delivered my two brothers and I, and her tiny mom delivered all six of her children. I was actually born just an hour and a half after my parents arrived at the hospital. Surely, Karma was going to be good to me.
When labor finally started for me, I knew it right away. It was a Monday night at about 5:45, and I was set to be induced Wednesday evening. I was eight days past my due date at that point, and I’d had an appointment for a non stress test (NST) and ultrasound early that morning to make sure Charlotte was still safe in her little home. When I was hooked up to the NST, the nurse told me I was contracting, but I didn’t feel them at all. I decided labor was going to be a piece of cake.
The first contractions I felt were gentle but consistent. Since I’d never had any Braxton-Hicks (and since I felt like I could explode with baby at any moment), I didn’t assume that’s what they were. Chris was in class, so I called with an update but told him not to rush home.
It’s funny what a person can remember. I was trying to make myself comfortable by reclining on our old sectional and watching “The Sing Off.” It was the Christmas episode. I remember watching one of the groups sing Firework by Katy Perry, and now when I hear that song I always think of that night.
By the time Chris got home around seven, my contractions were stronger more frequent, but they still weren’t long enough to go to the hospital. We decided to try to go to sleep. HA. A few hours later, the contractions were one to two minutes apart and hurt SO BAD. It didn’t matter that they didn’t last five minutes – if we had waited any longer to get to the hospital, I never would have gotten in the car.
The car ride was hell. Sitting down was so uncomfortable for me, and all those bumps and hills were torturous. I was screaming bloody murder from the back seat. Poor Chris. Good thing we live only three miles from the hospital! I guess I shouldn’t complain. 🙂
When we pulled up, I decided I couldn’t wait to get out of the car for Chris to park in the ramp, so I had him drop me off at the door. Since it was after one a.m., I had to get buzzed in by a security guard. I’m pretty sure I said, “Hi, I’m going to have a baby.” Just in case he couldn’t already tell. He pointed me off in some direction and eventually, Chris caught up to me (I guess I wasn’t moving very fast).
I was dilated to 4 cm, which meant they weren’t going to send me home. This was good news for that reason, but the thought of standing through six or more hours of that pain was about as unbearable as the pain itself. At this point, my contractions were about thirty seconds to a minute apart. Epidural it is!
But first I had to get hooked up to an I.V. (Cue blood curdling scream.)
Seriously, it was like my nightmare came true. The nurse couldn’t find a vein so she called another nurse in. When she couldn’t find a vein, they called in a third nurse. Oh hi! It was our nurse from the child birthing class. Thankfully, she found a very obscure vein in my forearm and I managed to get through all that poking (during contractions!) without passing out. It was a close one though.
Then it was time for the epidural. I bet it was three a.m. by the time it finally happened. People, getting an epidural is a piece of cake. If you are getting an epidural it is because you think the labor pains are unbearable. Trust me, you won’t feel the needle. The hardest part was having to sit totally still when it feels like someone is wringing your uterus out like a washcloth, while wearing thumb-tack covered gloves.
Oh yeah, and then the anesthesiologist ended up doing the whole thing on the wrong spot on my back, so he had to do it all over again. That was probably the hardest part.
After tweaking the dosage for a while, the relief finally started kicking in. If you’ve never had an epidural, this means you go numb from the waist down. Chris got some sleep, and I tried to as well. I ended up watching my contractions on the monitor pretty much all night. At some point, we realized that Charlotte’s heart rate was dropping with every contraction, so I had to wear an oxygen mask through the rest of my labor. There is one picture of me throughout this whole “ordeal,” and it’s a close-up of my oxygen-masked face. I looked so beautiful.
A few hours later, it was time to check to see how much I’d progressed. We were all hoping for a few centimeters, but all I got was a lousy .5. I was now only 4.5 cm dilated. This is when the doctor informed me that we should introduce some pitocin to get things moving. I think the decision had to do with Charlotte’s dropping heart rate, but I can’t be sure of that.
Around 8 am my mom arrived, and my mother in-law arrived a few hours after that. Then my dad and father in-law showed up, so I had a room full of spectators.
Despite the pitocin, my labor progression was slow, and I had multiple scares with Charlotte’s dangerously low heart rate. Each time I contracted, her heart rate would drop. The oxygen mask did the trick for the majority of my labor, but as time went on and contractions become stronger, her heart rate dropped lower. A couple of times, the medical team (which included nurses, nursing students, an attending doctor, and an intern) had to rush in, tilt my bed back, and…do something down there. I don’t know what they did because I refused to look in the mirror overhead. But it was terrifying. Eventually, they ended up inserting a fetal Doppler in order to get faster and more accurate heart rate readings.
Finally, finally, a little after 4:00 pm on December 7, I was fully dilated and it was time to push. By this point, my epidural had started wearing off hours ago, and we never could get it just right with the second dose. The machines had been beeping a lot recently, signaling Charlotte’s distress, and the medical team had remained in my room to keep close watch. I was so ready to get this labor over with and meet our daughter. The family hurriedly left the room, so that Chris and I could share this experience alone.
Suddenly, the attending doctor was standing in front of me holding what looked like large metal salad tongs. Uh oh – I knew what those were. “Katy,” he said, “we don’t much time for pushing because your baby’s heart rate is dropping too much too often. I’ve got to use the forceps to get her out right away.”
I’m surprised that this statement didn’t horrify me. I guess I just trusted him not to crush my baby’s head and get this done right. I took a deep breath and pushed. Once.
“Her head it still too far up for me grip on it, and I’m the best doc in the hospital with the forceps. If I can’t get her out, no one here can,” he said, already standing up. I hadn’t even felt the forceps go in – I guess my epidural was working. He continued, “But we need to get your baby out right now. We’ll need to do a c-section.”
Before I even had time to think, I was being wheeled out of the room. That’s when I started to cry. Just seconds ago I was getting ready to push out my daughter, and now I was being moved into an operating room due to dire circumstances. I couldn’t even let my mind wander to thoughts of how wrong this could go. I couldn’t let myself think about leaving the hospital without my baby.
I saw my dad’s face as we whizzed by in the hallway. “You’ll be okay,” he told me, and I decided to believe him.
Moments later, we were in the operating room. There were already so many people in there that I thought another surgery was going on (I was drugged and exhausted). The anesthesiologist added more drugs to my epidural before the surgeon did a test prick on my stomach.
Darn it. I could feel it.
“Your baby needs to come out NOW. We have to put you under,” one of the masked heads said.
Okay,” I said, and I was. Charlotte needed to come out. I breathed in the gas, coughed, and then it all went black.
Charlotte Mary was born at 4:18 p.m. I didn’t meet her until 6:00. This was hard for me for me to deal with.
[I’ve asked Chris a hundred times to tell me every detail about what happened between my “lights out” and six o’clock. He’s helped fill in some key moments, but his memory of it all is foggy and disjointed. It was a stressful event for him, too. I still don’t know how much time Charlotte spent with Chris before she met me. The thought of her spending even a few minutes without her parents during her first moments in the world still makes me cry. I think this is where mommy-guilt begins.]
I woke up over an hour later as I was being wheeled back into the delivery room. A nurse was telling me that Charlotte was fine and I was fine and who knows what else. When I got to my room, the whole family was in there.
“Where’s the baby?” I asked Chris.
“They took her to check on her,” he said. “I’ll go get her.”
Chris left and we waited. And waited and waited and waited. Finally, forty minutes later, he came through the door, pushing her in a little cart.
“Here comes your baby,” someone said. I felt my eyes well up as I watched them from across the room, but by the time she reached me, I was all smiles.
Actually, I was really drugged. Shaky, numb, totally out of it.
I remember it was a little hard to look at her face because I was lying so flat on the bed. I didn’t even think to say anything about helping me sit up or adjusting my bed because I was happy enough just to stare at her sideways. (Plus, I was drugged, remember. Have I mentioned that?) She had such chubby cheeks already, and a little wrinkle across the bridge of her nose where she had been squished in my stomach. I couldn’t even believe she was mine.
Then Daddy held her, then the grandparents, and then, after a time, the nurse told us we’d be moving into a recovery room down two floors.”
I contemplated this. “Okay,” I said warily, “but I don’t think I’ll be able to walk there.”
Thankfully, my bed had wheels.
By the next morning, I was up and out of bed, and by the day after, I was moving around my room with ease. I didn’t find the cesarean recovery to be too bad at all, aside from the discomfort of trying to sit up from the lying down position. Actually, I wore Charlotte in the Ergo carrier and walked around the mall five days after she was born. Surgery smurgery. I was just glad to get out of the house!
It took about a week before I started really thinking about what happened during Charlotte’s birth. This is when I started hounding Chris to fill me in on every last detail. While I was calm and cool after the whole situation in the hospital, I was beginning to feel very sad about my first birthing experience. Missing out on my daughter’s first moments in this big, scary world is something I’ll always regret and feel guilty about. I also felt like my body had failed her because I wouldn’t have been able to deliver her safely on my own. See, in the delivery room, the doctors figured out why Charlotte had been losing so much oxygen during labor: the umbilical cord was growing abnormally out of the placenta. Rather than growing out of the center, it was coming out of the side, which caused it to pinch with each contraction. So my c-section was not a choice made by doctors to “move me through” and get my labor over with – we truly needed it in order to ensure a live delivery. Holy cow, did that thought give me nightmares for a long, long time.
Thank goodness I was in a hospital.
But let’s talk about the happiest moments, shall we? Let’s talk about love!
I wish I could say that I fell instantly in love the moment my little angel was placed in my arms, but I don’t think I was capable of that much feeling at that time. The love set in hours later, probably around 2 a.m., when the drugs had worn off and I was able to really gaze at her as she lie in a bundle between Chris and I in bed. Her warm little body, her sweet rosebud lips, her tiny wrinkly hands and feet – I remember thinking how perfect it felt to have her right between us and that I never ever wanted to leave her side. I smiled at Chris and, together, we looked back down to smile at her. I haven’t stopped smiling since.