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Sunday, September 4, 2005

Riley's Birth Story

Monday, August 29th
10:30 AM

I'm at the doctor's office for my 37-week prenatal appointment, doing the usual. Pee in the cup, step on the scale, clamp my lips around the thermometer, hold out my arm for the blood pressure cuff -

....the blood pressure cuff -

"Hmmm," says the nurse, frowning. "Are you on blood pressure medication?" No, I say. "Hmmmm," she says again.

I'm moved into a different office and another nurse asks me a bunch of questions. Am I having vision problems, she asks, or excessive swelling or a pain in my side? No, I say. She tells me I'll probably need to have my blood pressure checked again before I leave because, "well, it's a little on the high side".

I wait for a while, and now the doctor comes in. She tells me that my blood pressure is high and it's concerning enough that she's going to send me to labor and delivery right now, where, she says, there's a 50-50 chance I won't be leaving the hospital without having the baby.

I stare openmouthed. "I....I don't have the bag - I was going to clean closets, I-"

"Yes," she says gently, "I understand."


Monday, August 29th
1 PM

I've called JB and told him what was going on, and what I'd like him to pack to bring to the hospital. "Are you writing this down," I ask while listing off items. "I'm, uh, yes," he says, hyperventilating slightly. "Okay," I say, "I'll want makeup. Can you pack some makeup?" "Makeup," he says. "That's the, uh, stuff in the bathroom?"

He arrives at the hospital, bag in hand, about five seconds after I call him, having broken both the speed limits and the laws of physics in order to propel himself across the lake. Impressively, he's packed blush, an eyebrow pencil, concealer, and a nice bronzer. He's also included a tube of pink glitter gel and a dried-up container of Clearasil, but I award him full points for effort.

I'm hooked up to a fetal monitor with my arm being intermittently squeezed by a pressure cuff. Various residents and nurses come and go. My blood is drawn, I pee in another cup. Finally, it's decided that I'm going to stay, because OH MY GOD, LABOR is going to be INDUCED.

"Huh," JB says, watching the blood pressure monitor. "Looks like it just went a little higher."


Monday, August 29th
3 PM

The word "magnesium" has been batted back and forth several times now, and I am growing Vaguely Concerned. I'm told it's a medication that raises the seizure threshold, meaning it makes the body less likely to seize in high blood pressure situations. I'm also told it isn't very pleasant.

"It makes you feel sort of..." one nurse says. She makes a face. "Gaaaack."

Another nurse says it's like having a bad flu. "It's like, bleeaaah," she says.

Finally, someone who doesn't pull any punches describes the side effects in detail: dilated veins that cause flushing and fever-like sensations, muscle relaxants that drain energy; headaches, nausea. "It's nasty stuff," she concludes. "Sorry about that. Anyway, we're going to need to get you on it right now."


Monday, August 29th
5 PM

After being set up in a birthing room and installed in bed, I am spiked with an IV drip delivering magnesium. Almost immediately, my face turns bright red and I begin to sweat profusely. "How do you feel?" JB asks worriedly. "Gaaack," I respond. "Bleeeaaaaah."

"She's magged," a nurse says knowingly.

To start the induction process, a medication called Cervidil is placed inside me. It's got 12 hours to "ripen" the cervix and move things along, laborwise, before starting Pitocin.

Now, we wait.


Tuesday, August 30
3 AM

Aaand wait. It's been a long, sleepless night; nurses come in every few minutes and check my vital signs. They ask if I feel any contractions. Any pain? they ask hopefully. No, I say, unless you count the pain that is IN MY ASS from trying to get up and go pee while being hooked to an IV stand and a giant electronic machine! Ha ha!


At some ungodly hour, a woman next door begins to scream. I've never heard anything like it in my life. It's like something out of a horror movie, and JB and I lie in the dark listening in mortal terror. Her shrieks culminate, finally, into a diabolic spiraling sound that goes on and on, before finally being replaced by the unmistakable sound of a baby crying.

The next time a nurse comes in, I ask in a broken whisper if what we had just heard was a natural birth or if she'd had an epidural. The nurse cocks her head and thinks. "Natural," she says. I instantly re-evaluate every thought I have ever had about a medication-free birth.


Tuesday, August 30
5 AM

The Cervidil is removed, and it's surprisingly painful. I'm told the medication makes the vaginal tissues more sensitive. Oh goody! What a marvelous and timely side effect! I cannot wait until a FULLY GROWN BABY is pushed out of the very same area that is currently retreating in waves of discomfort over the intrusion of a FINGER.

No ripening has taken place, apparently, and so a second 12-hour dose is administered. More waiting, I guess. Mmmm, hospital food.


Tuesday, August 30
6 PM

After having been on the magnesium for 24 hours, I now feel like something the cat dragged in. Well, something the cat dragged in and horked up in the corner of the room, actually. My head throbs, my face is swollen and hot, my eyes are drugged and half-closed, my stomach is churning. I take a moment to reflect on the fact that on Monday morning I felt perfectly fine, had just easily walked 4 miles the night before, and only now that I was in the tender care of a hospital was I legitimately wan and sickly.

Once again the Cervidil is removed and I endure another aching exam, during which I swear the doctor's finger brushes the top of my skull, so deeply does she plunder in hopes of discovering anything other that the situation at hand: I haven't progressed a single bit. Despite some increasingly robust contractions that have become more strenuous, if not exactly painful, my cervix is Fort Knox.

Now is the time we're supposed to switch to Pitocin. We discuss my Vaginal State of Affairs with a doctor:

• No progress has been made from the induction drugs thus far
• Magnesium actually impedes labor, due to its muscle relaxant qualities. I have to stay on the magnesium the entire time, though
• The Pitocin process is likely to be very painful and a c-section will need to be scheduled by the morning if not enough progress has been made, because of the blood pressure problem (otherwise, I'd just go back to trying the Cervidil, etc, for as long as it takes, as long as the baby stays healthy)

So the choice is: try the Pitocin and hope for the best, or go ahead and get some sleep and just plan on a c-section. If I weren't so sick and out of it from the magnesium, I probably would try for the Pitocin; as it is, I feel awful and I can't imagine going through labor like this, only to have such a high chance of a c-section anyway. I weigh my options, and talk with JB, and ultimately choose the caesarian.

Operation Cut Open Mah Belleh is scheduled for 5 AM. JB and I are told to get "plenty of sleep".


Wednesday, August 31
1 AM, 2 AM, 2:30 AM, 3:15 AM, etc.

JB and I sleep for approximately 45 seconds between the multitudes of nurses taking my vital signs, adjusting machinery, reading the monitor printouts, and bringing me ice packs for my burning, aching head.


Wednesday, August 31
4:30 AM

I'm being prepped for the operation. My belly is scrubbed, and I stagger to the bathroom one last time where I succumb to a violent episode of the shakes. I'm cold, I'm in magnesium misery, and frankly, I'm scared.

5 AM

JB is handed some scrubs and told to wait, I'm rolled into the operating room where I meet the anesthesiologist. I'm frightened and blinking against the harsh lights in the room, my teeth are chattering loudly. I sit upright while he injects a local pain reliever in my back, then he inserts the epidural. I feel a wash of warmth run through my lower body, it's strangely comforting, like a warm towel fresh from the dryer.

I lie down and I'm draped, everything below my neck is now hidden. Various people bustle about the room handing things to each other, the atmosphere is businesslike and hurried. The anesthesiologist checks my numbness by pricking me with a pin, first on my upper chest where I can start to feel it, then down on my legs where I thankfully cannot.

Everything seems to start happening very fast. I hear someone say "incision", and I ask if JB is there yet. No, they say, and someone says "get the father!" Soon JB is by my head, he's stroking my forehead and asking if I'm okay. Only now do I notice my arms are stretched out to my sides and strapped down, Jesus style. I'm feeling scared, but also somehow calm.

6:14 AM

My body rocks from side to side, there's a lot of rooting around, and all of a sudden there is a baby crying. Oh my god, there is a baby crying. I see Riley being lifted up and out and taken to the side of the room where people attend to him. Tears roll down my face, I can't believe it's really real, that any of this is actually taking place. Someone tells JB he can come over, and he leaves my side for a bit. Soon he comes back and he's holding our baby in his arms.

6 pounds, 13 ounces. 20 inches long.

I'm caught between the intensity of the moment and, uh, the increasing concern I am going to barf, like, everywhere. I whisper to the anesthesiologist that I feel nauseous, he tells me it's normal at this stage because of what's going on with my intestines at the moment. I do not want to know what's going on with my intestines at the moment. He indicates a basin nearby, I clench my teeth and will my body to deal. I focus on Riley, who is blurry, wriggling, red-faced, and unbelievably beautiful. I do not barf.

They finish sewing me back together, and I'm rolled onto a stretcher and taken out of the room and down the hall to another labor room. Riley is weighed and measured, and JB sits with him close by. Time passes, I don't know how much, before they put me on another bed and roll me down a floor to a recovery room, where we will stay until I am discharged.



At some point, I'm asked to try and sit up on the side of the bed. As I struggle to do so, I cannot believe the world of discomfort I have entered. This is pain on a scale I have never encountered before, and as the morphine wears off I ask if there is something else I can take, like maybe could I have one of those epidurals again?

The nurse asks what my pain feels like. Is it cramping, like a bad period? she says. No, I say, it's more like a bladder infection, or something. Like I have to pee really, really bad. Hmmmm, she says, and adjusts my catheter. Forty thousand gallons of backed-up pee cascade down the previously empty tube and I gasp with relief. Is that better? she asks chirpily. I contemplate angrily devouring her head, but sadly conclude that wouldn't fit with my all-liquid post-op diet.


Thursday, September 1
4 AM

I suddenly realize that the beautiful sapphire necklace JB gave me to commemorate Riley's birth won't have the right birthstone. Oh well.


Thursday, September 1
6 AM

I now have to prove I can get up and walk around, because my catheter is going to be removed. I haven't gone so long without visiting a bathroom in months, if I wasn't so uncomfortable having a tube wedged inside my body I'd ask for a home version.

Sitting upright involves much straining, hissing, and involuntary cries of agony. Walking, I look like an ancient arthritic crone, hunched over and shuffling. It hurts, very badly. I discard every last shred of dignity as I allow the nurse to help me to the toilet, change my pad, and gently pull the catheter out. When I slowly make my way back to bed, I ask JB to put Riley next to me. Almost instantly, I forget about my physical condition as I gaze at my gorgeous son.

They finally take me off the magnesium. I whimper with joy as the IV is wheeled away.


Thursday, September 1 - Friday, September 2

Only now am I hearing about the destruction and horror going on in the aftermath of the hurricane. I feel blessed, lucky beyond reason, to be safe and sound and holding our healthy baby.

From now until I'm finally allowed to leave on Friday evening, I slowly get better - the pain goes from "excruciating" to "ouchy", waxing and waning with the amount of hydrocodone in my system.

When I take my first shower in four days, I swear a choir of angels appears right there in the bathroom in their own beam of heavenly light.

Taking my first poop is less rewarding, and I'll leave it at that.

JB and I learn to change diapers, to feed Riley, and how to burp him. He rarely cries and is easily comforted. Plus, he's totally cute. God, this is awesome.

I leave the hospital with eight thousand prescriptions, a clean bill of health for the baby, a very tired husband, a lilting new gait, a surprisingly reduced belly, and a beautiful, milky-smelling miracle. I can't say the last few days have been everything I ever hoped for, birth experience-wise, but the end result is perfection.


Today is Sunday, and I can't believe so much has already happened and is behind us. I'm healing rapidly; I'm walking easily, can get in and out of bed with a minimum of sobbing, and my incision looks like it will be nearly invisible once it's scarred. I feel so much better than I did a few days ago, I'm just amazed.

Riley is a dream baby. I suppose things can and will change, but right now he only cries when he's hungry and when he needs to be changed. He spends most of his time sleeping, or lying in our arms, awake and blinking his blue newborn's eyes at us. He is unbelievably good natured, mellow and sweet. I could simply hold him all day long, staring at his face, touching his soft skin and smelling his head. I kiss his little mouth all the time, I can barely keep my hands off him. JB is the same way, singing to him, keeping a running commentary during a diaper change, holding his tiny hand and marveling at his grip. We are in love, we are over the moon and yes, it's a lot of work, but oh my god, it's worth every single solitary second. I know this time will go by so fast and I want to freeze frame every moment, I want to lock him in, I want to Save As: Newborn.

A few times a day, often in the wee hours of the night, Riley will have just fed and he'll lie quietly in our arms. His tiny face will be calm, and his eyes will look at our faces. His mouth will open and close, and he'll blink as he's kissed. If you rub your fingers gently over his eyebrows, his eyes will close in bliss, then open again to look at us. These are the most tender, the most meaningful times of my entire life, just these few minutes that have happened in the last days.

I don't think I have the words for this, really. Just that I'm so happy, we are both so unbelievably joyous and loving our son so very much, this is all a million times better than I ever, ever could have imagined.


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