"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life;
to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One Baby, Two Births

I know that no mother could ever forget the day her first precious baby was brought into the world. To others my story isn’t exceptional, but to me it is. The circumstances surrounding Ethan’s birth are somewhat humorous and disappointing, depending on how you look at it. I have had five years to get over it and in hind sight I suppose it is pretty funny. Irony is quite often the ingredient that makes a story amusing, and Ethan’s birth was laughably ironic.

I was absolutely gigantic in my last two trimesters of pregnancy. I was still in college that fall semester before he was born, and all of my professors were worried that I was going to have the baby before finals in December. I was so big and they assumed I was further along than I was. “I wish I was having this baby that soon!” I would tell them. From conception to birth I gained a whopping seventy pounds. Even though I’m 5’8”, that amount of weight is huge. The day he was born I tipped the scale at 205 and burst into tears. I was wrapping things up at the University of Utah, a campus that is full of hills and it would have been impossible to walk around it all day and not get a great deal of exercise. So I know that I was plenty active and burning lots of calories each day. I ate right (okay, I craved chili dogs the entire time) and I got plenty of rest yet the weight kept piling on.

Because I got pregnant while on Depo Provera (the birth control shot) my due date was never very accurate. It ranged all the way from January 6 at one point to February 12. Toward the end, the doctor was saying February 2 was to be the big day. So that day came and went, and then the next day, and then the next. By the end of that week I was a blubbering mess and I was convinced that God did not want me to have this baby! It made me sick when I would hear of women giving birth two weeks before their due date. It just wasn’t fair.

My obstetrician, Dr. Farnsworth, told me at a routine appointment near my due date that he would try inducing me in a few days if there was still no baby. My blood pressure had gone up a little and since I had gained so much weight, it seemed to be the ideal solution.

“No,” I told him when he suggested it. “Don’t you know that an induced birth raises the chance of having a c-section?” Of course he knew that. The guy had been in practice for over thirty years. Through out the entire pregnancy I had it set in my mind that I would have a drug free, intervention free birth. I had spent the last nine months reading every book on natural childbirth. I had been to birthing classes and I had watched the videos and gone over every bit of material I could get my swollen hands on. So no matter how many people tried to convince me that childbirth was going to hurt like the unthinkable, I simply care. A c-section was the most UN-natural way to have a baby, so for me that was completely out of the question. It went against everything I had been planning for.

And so I waited. Day after day after day, each night relishing in the comfort of a hot bubble bath. I was so heavy and water was the only thing to relieve me off the extra flubber I was carrying. I would lie in the tub, sobbing and pleading with that stubborn child to please be expelled from my body. I thought for sure that he had decided to take up permanent residence in my hospitable uterus. For several nights prior to Ethan’s debut I was jolted awake in false labor. Contractions would start and then stop again, each time getting my hopes up so high that this was the real thing. And each day Cody would come home from work asking me “Any thing new down there?” Between the raging pregnancy hormones, sleep deprivation, and pure anxiety, Cody is lucky that I never reached out and strangled him.

Dr. Farnsworth finally made the decision that he would not let me go past February 11. That was a Wednesday and I was to check in to the hospital that morning. However, at 3:00 a.m. on Monday, February 9 I woke up with massive cramping in my abdomen, pains that I had not felt before. I wasn’t going to get my hopes up so I tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. Then the baby kicked my bladder so hard and I almost wet the bed, so I decided to give in and go to the bathroom. And there it was. I had lost my plug! That disgusting, pink, gooey mess on the toilet paper was such a sight for sore eyes. At that moment it was the most beautiful thing my eyes had ever beheld.

I was far too excited to go back to sleep. I began timing contractions and I was sure that they would be irregular, but to my surprise they were each exactly eight minutes apart and gradually getting stronger. This had to be the real thing! I decided to let Cody sleep for a few more hours before I told him what was going on. So I hurried around and made sure my hospital bag was in order. I took a shower, made myself breakfast and then turned on the T.V.

I had an appointment with Dr. Farnsworth that morning and then a scheduled non-stress test immediately following at the hospital. I was just sure that when the doctor did the internal exam he would say something like “Whoa! You’re already dilated five centimeters! Get yourself to the hospital!” After all the contractions I’d been having I knew I couldn’t be smaller than a five. But to my chagrin, Dr. Farnsworth looked up from the exam and said “Nope, you’re still at a one and 50% effaced.” What?! He had to be wrong! “You’re probably in labor, but it’s going to be a long time. I still want you to have the test done this morning, but then go back home and try to rest. You’re going to need your strength.” I went over to the hospital for the non-stress test.

All of the books about natural childbirth emphasized the importance of staying away from the hospital for as long as possible. They said that once I was there, my labor was likely to impede and that complications could arise. So I spent the next several hours cleaning our apartment, washing clothes, and scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Surely being in that position would speed things along.

I was fully aware that once I got to the hospital I would lose all self respect and dignity. With nurses and doctors examining me and my personal areas exposed for all to see, I knew that I was in for a nightmare. I wanted to hold onto any shred of beauty I still had so I decided to shave my legs and give myself a pedicure. My legs and my feet were going to be pushed up against some poor soul’s face so I wanted them to look as nice as possible. Now it’s a very funny thing when a walrus tries to shave her legs. I balanced my huge backside on the edge of the bath tub and in between each contraction I raced to shave another section of leg. When a contraction hit I would hunch over and attempt my breathing exercises. Then it would subside and I would again hurry to shave another section. I repeated this same ritual with my toenails, only that was far more amusing. What stood between me and my feet was an enormous beach ball and it was near impossible to get around it.

By the time Cody got home from work that evening I was in serious pain. He came through the door and I met him with “I don’t think I can hold on much longer. We need to get to the hospital.” Having labored all day I was so excited to get to the hospital so I could have an internal exam done. I just knew that my cervix was wide open and that the baby was on his way. The ride to the hospital was so long for me, even though it was only about ten miles from home. The whole way there I was busy doing my focusing exercises and it was to the point where I could no longer talk during contractions. Even breathing was a challenge. They were coming every three minutes and boy did they hurt!

Stepping off the elevator and into the labor and delivery department was a very surreal experience. I was aware that right down the hall was where my baby boy would enter the world…probably only an hour or two away. It was 7:00 at night and after I was changed into a gown and my room was situated, the labor and delivery nurse came in to do an exam. By this time the contractions were extremely intense and each time one of them hit I would entertain the idea of an epidural.

After I was examined, I was horrified when the nurse told me I was only dilated three centimeters. Dr. Farnsworth had checked me at 9:30 that morning and in nine hours I had only dilated two more centimeters! I was beginning to think that all the pain I had endured all day had been for nothing.

“You’re likely looking at another six or seven hours before this baby is born,” the nurse assured me. I couldn’t believe it. How could it get any worse? How could I possibly go through that much more pain?

I was getting so annoyed with people asking me if I wanted an epidural. “No!” I would bark at them. “No drugs at all!” I should have asked for a piece of leather to bite down on. The rational side of me argued with the emotional side that I needed an epidural. I was told that it could speed things along and make me dilate faster. But I felt stuck because I had spent the last nine months shooting my mouth off to everyone about what a tough girl I was and how I could do it with no drugs. If I could pass kidney stones I could do this. So instead, I kept on being a martyr. And if my femininity hadn’t been blatantly obvious in the fact that I was about to expel a baby from my womb, I could have sworn that I had two testicles, a penis, and lots of burly hair on my chest proving that I was a man.

I spent the next two hours walking the halls, lying in the whirlpool tub, and trying desperately to focus on Lamaze. When Dr. Farnsworth finally got there and checked me, he said “This baby hasn’t even dropped yet. He’s still very high up. I think he’s a big one.” Dr. Farnsworth decided to break my water to help things along (Looking back on it now, I think that was a mistake). When he did so, I swear Niagara Falls couldn’t hold a candle to what had been cooped up inside of me. All of the sudden there was a loud gush and the doctor jump out of the way in order to miss what seemed to be the opening of the Hoover Dam. Within minutes the pain intensified to a level that almost sent me over the edge.

It was close to 10:00 and they decided to put me on pitocin and that terrified me. I could barely endure contractions at the level they were now. How could I do it if they intensified? After a while the nurse checked me again. “You’re a six.” I thought I was about to die because the pain was unreal. Then I heard a strange beeping sound and I looked at the monitor to see the baby’s heart rate falling fast. Sheer panic over took me and at that moment two nurses came in to the room. “He’s not doing well,” one of them said to the other. “Get someone in here.”

The next several minutes were being played in slow motion. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but the room was filled with people in scrubs and white coats and I was being poked and probed and I could swear there were a dozen different tubes coming out of me. A monitor was put just below the surface of the baby’s scalp and I could hear myself saying “My baby is going to die!” I have no clue what they did to me. All I know is that a few moments later the baby’s heart rate was back to normal but I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Adrenaline began pumping vigorously through my veins and I began to shake uncontrollably and vomit. “That’s totally normal,” the nurse reassured Cody and me. It only felt like hell.

For almost two hours Dr. Farnsworth was in and out of the room, closely studying the monitor each time he was there. By this time I felt like I was going to split wide open and I screamed bloody murder each time a contraction hit which were now right on top of each other. I think that at one point I must have pleaded with Cody to take a pillow and smother me with it. “Veronica,” Dr. Farnsworth said “I think you need to get the epidural. This is too much for you. You have a big baby who’s having a very hard time making his way down and you need a little help to relax.”

All I remember is yelling something pretty vulgar at him and Cody. How on earth could I give in now? After all I had been through, how I could I succumb to the pain when I was so close to the end? The next thing I knew the anesthesiologist was by my side.

It was nearing midnight and I was dilated seven centimeters. I had just started adjusting to the numbness in my body and I began to relax a little. Then again the baby’s heart rate fell. The circus of medical personnel came flooding back into the room and then I heard those ironic words: “Prep her for a c-section.”

“It’s either this or your baby might die,” Dr. Farnsworth said boldly when I tried to fight him on it. I was utterly devastated and I thought for a moment that I was dreaming. This couldn’t really be happening, could it? Before I knew it I was in the operating room, lying under such bright lights that I could barely see anything. Or was it the tears in my eyes that were blinding me? The shaking was so severe and I felt like my limbs were going to go flying off. An oxygen mask was strapped to my face and the whole room was spinning. Suddenly every part of my body that I could feel began to itch so badly as if I had gotten into poison ivy. My tongue began to swell and I thought I was going to stop breathing. It turned out I was having a severe allergic reaction to the morphine they were injecting into my veins. What I would have given right then to have general anesthesia and not know at all what was going on! Even a good conk on the head would have done the trick.

There were two medical students assisting Dr. Farnsworth with the surgery, so the entire time he was describing exactly what he was doing, what he was cutting, what was being pulled, and what was being taken out. Taken out? What?! Put it back in!! Then I remember the doctor saying “Okay Dad, you might want to see this.” At that point the stubborn child was pulled from my belly and held up for all to see. I of course could see nothing because of that blasted blue drape that was hanging right in front of my face.

But I did hear his cry. That angelic, screeching, nasally, beautiful cry was the most awesome thing I had ever heard. He cried and he cried! And if I hadn’t been crying already from the nightmarish ordeal I know I would have shed fresh tears myself. In a matter of seconds they wrapped him up and brought him over for me to see. My entire face was terribly swollen from the allergic reaction and my eyes were small slits, just barely wide enough to make out the soft white hat on his teeny little head. I stroked his face with my finger and in an instant, my entire life changed and I knew I would never be the same. Right there in that operating room there was not just the birth of a baby, but also the birth of a mother. I had entered the hospital that night as a naive and sheltered girl, yet I would leave as a mother bear protecting her fragile cub. I was a woman suddenly aware of every danger and evil that lurked in the world. I was in charge of this little person for the rest of my time on earth and my heart began to swell so large that it felt like it would burst from my chest.

Right then I fully understood why a person would throw herself in front of a speeding car to save the life of her child. Without a second thought, I would have gone through the entire pregnancy again. I would have suffered the four month long campout on the bathroom floor as my stomach turned itself inside out. I would have gladly experienced the unrelenting heartburn brought on even by drinking water, or the swelling in my feet that magically increased my shoe size from a seven to a nine. I would have suffered with the hemorrhoids so painful that I could barely sit at times, or the leg cramps and night sweats that kept me up night after night. I wouldn’t have thought twice about going through twenty one hours of labor so painful that no book on the planet could have prepared me for. And in the end, I would have undergone major surgery that would forever leave a battle scar on my once flawless belly. I would have endured it all again just to have that one precious moment with my son. I had done all of the research on ways of getting a baby into the world, but nothing could have conveyed to me the unspeakable love that would freely poor from my heart to my baby. Ethan had made it, all eight pounds eight ounces and twenty two inches of him. It was 12:37 a.m. on February 10, 2004 and after a day like that, exhaustion only touched the surface of what I was feeling.

“Irony is the gaiety of reflection and the joy of wisdom.” –Anatole France


Julie said...

Happy birthday Ethan and Veronica.


Janice said...

I hope you and Ethan had a lovely birthday and birth-day anniversary (in your case)yesterday. Sending good thoughts your way.

Janice in Virginia

Joey and Nettifer said...

Happy Birthday to the both of yoU!

Amy said...

Happy Birthday! Wow, Veronica, you remember things with such vivid detail! And if I haven't told you this before, you are an amazing writer! You really should write a book. Any topic would be fine I think that you could make anything interesting!