One of the lessons of parenting that has come up frequently for me is to roll with the punches—don’t get your heart set on things working out a certain way. And yet, apparently I still haven’t learned the lesson, because I really was hoping Elliot’s birth story would have turned out differently.
I never did go into labor spontaneously. So, at my midwife appointment on Friday, August 17, we were out of options. The midwife informed me that they wanted to get the baby out by 42 weeks—by Monday, August 20. She was concerned that I wanted to do a VBAC but they would have to induce; apparently this is not a very safe or successful combination. She had to speak to the doctors who were on call all weekend to make sure they were okay with trying induction. She warned me that they may not be, but she would call to let me know when to be at the hospital and what we were going to do, noting that induction would be via pitocin drip and balloon dilation.
Later that day, I got a call letting me know that they would induce at 6 am the following morning. “Oh good,” I thought, “I can get some sleep tonight!” Little did I know… I was so stressed out about the impending procedure that I only slept from 11:30 pm to 2:30 am. (Gracie was also stressed, apparently—she woke up at 4 am and could not go back to sleep. She wailed and sobbed. She wouldn’t tell me what she was worried about; I think she was afraid that I would have to have a c-section. She is afraid of surgery. Perhaps this is because she has lost parts of her fingers in every surgery she’s undergone.)
When the time came, my sister and husband and I drove to the hospital for the induction. Although we got there roughly on time, it took quite a while to get started. Even though I’ve always been told that I have great veins, the nurse could not get an IV going, and had to call the vascular team to start the drip. I was also told that I would have to be on the monitors the entire time I was there, and that I could not take a bath or utilize some of the other features of the birthing room. Bad news on top of bad news.
Eventually, the midwife came in to discuss the plan. They would start the pitocin drip to ripen my cervix, and if it worked, they would then insert the balloon catheter to continue cervical ripening. I asked why they couldn’t use any other methods to ripen the cervix. Apparently, everything else can cause contractions to come too fast and often, which increases the risk of uterine rupture. These two torture devices were my only options.
When the pitocin drip started, it took quite a while for the contractions to come. But after a few hours, they were starting to get more intense and more frequent. It seemed that there was a glimmer of hope at last—it seemed like labor was finally starting. That hope was short-lived, though; the contractions suddenly stopped and progress stalled. At that point, exhaustion overtook me—the three hours of sleep from the night before were not enough for me to continue trying to labor, and I could not do anything but lay in bed. The night midwife decided to stop pitocin and insert the balloon. She made some comment about my reluctance to use the balloon; I don’t even remember what I said or did that made her think I was unwilling, but to me it was more that I was so exhausted I couldn’t think or make any decisions on my own. She went ahead with her plan, and soon there was a large balloon catheter in my cervix.
The catheter caused tremendous cramping, as expected, and throughout the night I woke up with painful cramptractions. But it worked. The next day, it was ready to come out, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. At that point, labor legitimately started. The contractions were frequent and intense, and by about noon I was dilated to 7.5 cm. I was hopeful that the baby would be born by that afternoon.
The contractions continued to intensify and were coming closer and closer together and lasting longer and longer. Although I had wanted to try a drug-free birth, it soon became clear that the pain was too intense to manage without any relief. The nurse offered me nitrous oxide to “take the edge off” during the contractions, which I accepted at that point. The nitrous was frustrating to me; the face mask made it hard to properly breathe through the contractions, and during the rest period I could barely keep my eyes open. It did not seem to do much for the pain, but it definitely impaired my faculties. I would not recommend it to other mothers.
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually the contractions were so strong and so close together that I felt like maybe I should try to push. THAT was excruciatingly painful. It felt like the baby was stuck—like he could not get through my cervix. When the midwife came in, she said I was at 9.5 cm, and she could try to massage the last little bit of cervix out of the way with the next contraction. I was hysterical and cried for her not to do it—I knew how much it would hurt. At that point, I asked for an epidural. The pain was just too intense to manage. I can remember various visual images of pain that passed across my eyes during those severely intense contractions. It was getting more and more painful, but the baby wasn’t making his way out yet. It was awful.
The nurse took away the nitrous when I asked for the epidural. I remember crying in desperation, but also thinking that it hadn’t really helped anyway. I breathed through the next several contractions, holding on to Chad and silently praying for relief. After several more intensely painful contractions, the anesthesiologist appeared. He was my savior at that point.
The moment the epidural kicked in, the baby became distressed. His heart rate dropped dangerously low, and all of a sudden there were nurses and doctors everywhere. It occurred to me after a bit that they were prepping me for surgery. They gave me several medications to stop the contractions and to help the baby, they washed my stomach with their special soap, and they inserted a bladder catheter. They rolled me on one side, then the other, trying to stabilize the baby. Finally, his heart rate recovered, and everyone left the room except the night nurse (it was evening by this time; time had passed without my conscious awareness while I labored). They told me they would be back in an hour or so to check on whether the contractions were coming back.
I stared at the baby’s heart rate monitor, terrified that he was not okay. After all that, the worst possible outcome would be to lose the baby, which is what I was afraid of all along. With every dip in his heart rate, I asked the nurse whether he was okay. The nurse assured me that he was fine, but I couldn’t believe it—I couldn’t take comfort in it after all we had been through. And when my contractions started coming back, his heart rate would drop with each one. The nurse was unconcerned, but I was worried.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, my midwife came back in. She pulled up a chair and looked me in the eyes. She said, “Suz, I think we need to get this baby out.” I quickly agreed; it was too scary to watch him suffer each time I contracted. I was so worried about him, and only wanted to see a healthy baby. She started gathering the team for a c-section.
It was at this point that I felt most hopeless, felt the most despair. I had just gone through two days of intense contractions and painful medical interventions, and for nothing—we were going to end up in a surgical suite anyway. Why had I bothered trying? Why had I spent so much time and energy working to bring the baby into the world, when he would just have to be cut out anyway? It was awful; this is probably the part of the birth story that I will always have the hardest time with. At one point, my midwife came in and saw me crying. She tried to reassure me that I had done what I thought was best for my baby, and that I would have always wondered if I had not done it this way, but that was small consolation.
I felt utter despair as they wheeled me into the operating room. I had asked for two “consolation prizes” for the c-section—I wanted them to tie my tubes as long as they were in there, and I asked for a clear drape. Neither would happen; the (Catholic) hospital would not allow tube-tying for birth control reasons, and when I mentioned that I have an aunt who died of ovarian cancer (this is one of the reasons they’ll do the tube-tying), the doctor said he was worried that I’d already lost a lot of blood and he didn’t feel comfortable doing the surgery. He also said that they do not have clear drapes, so I would have to have the big blue sheet covering my view of Elliot’s birth. At that point, it seemed that nothing had gone right anyway, so I didn’t argue. I did not have the strength or presence of mind to advocate for myself, anyway.
If I’d had enough presence of mind, I probably would have objected to some of the medications they gave me before the surgery. I tend to throw up every time I get anesthetic or pain medicine, and they gave me several different types of each. But that wouldn’t occur to me until the next day. But I digress.
I could feel the surgeon make the incision—it didn’t hurt, but I could feel the pressure. I could feel them maneuvering Elliot around so that he would come out head-first; apparently, he was not quite in the right position. And I could definitely feel them pull him out. I realized I could see his reflection in the overhead lights, and watched as they rubbed and rubbed on his chest, trying to evoke a cry. I desperately intoned, “Is he okay? Is he okay?” to which everyone assured me he was, but I could not feel peace until he cried. It seemed like an eternity.
Soon, though, came the sweetest sound—his little sweet newborn cry. They whisked him to the warming bed to clean him off and do all the things they do. I watched him struggle and cry on the bed as the nurses gathered around. Pretty soon, one of them shouted out his weight—”Nine pounds, two ounces”—Chad’s exact guess! No wonder he couldn’t get through my cervix. He was just too big. He really WAS getting stuck!
Chad told me later that when he had come out, the cord was wrapped around his neck and all across his body. Elliot’s cord was huge, which Chad heard one nurse say is a sign that the mother “really took care of the baby”—score one for me, I guess. But that huge cord was getting compressed every time I contracted, which explained why his heart rate was dropping. Chances are, he wouldn’t have been able to be born naturally anyway; the stress of moving through the birth canal would have maybe stopped his heart for too long. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself… I need to hang onto something to understand why it didn’t work out the way I wanted, why we ended up in a surgical suite after two days of torture.
Elliot was born at 10:19 p.m. on August 19, only a little over an hour before the end of the 42nd week. He was and is absolutely perfect. He is the sweetest baby—he really only cries when he’s hungry, and it’s a cute little whuffling cry, not a full-on scream. We are all in love.
Ultimately, all’s well that ends well. Even though we went through two horrible days to get him here, Elliot is a beautiful healthy baby. That two days of torture was probably worth it, despite nothing going according to plan. (But it all went how I imagined it would when I was told about the induction method, ironically… no wonder I didn’t want to do it that way.)
Elliot completes our family, so we will never have to go through that sort of ordeal again. He is perfect, even if his birth story is not.
Welcome to the world, Little Mr. Man.