This is the story of how I became Mac's mom. Further posts will detail what a beautiful baby genius he is, but this one is told mostly about his parents. This post is long and personal. Ready?
On December 14th at 4:30, Jordan and I took our pre-packed (way overpacked, by the way - hilariously overpacked) hospital bags to Mission Hospital, which is exactly 3 minutes from our house. In fact, we could nearly see our house from the window of our hospital room. Because we were there for a scheduled induction, it was bizarre to walk in as though we were checking into a hotel, knowing we'd walk out with a baby. We were both so nervous and excited, but trying to downplay both of those emotions in order to appear totally cool and ready to be parents.
The room we were put in was a beautiful mountain-view room, which I was relieved about because I know it was a roll of the dice that we’d get an ugly room facing construction. We met our nurse, S (no names in this story because that just seems like the right thing to do) who was wonderful, warm, and friendly - so wonderful, given that I had literally never checked into a hospital and had all kinds of of butterflies in my stomach about the experience of being a real-deal patient.
Our nurse told me to put on a gown and hang out for my cervical exam to see how far along I was. I think that was the moment if became real for me - getting the gown on and getting into that hospital bed was truly the first time I was like, "Oh! Okay. So we're doing this."
They hooked the baby up to a heart monitor at that point and we saw that I was contracting every 10 minutes or so: irregularly, but definitely happening. It was comforting to me to know that those "muscle contractions" I'd been feeling were actually uterine contractions, and that I wasn't crazy. She "checked me" (cool OB term for "seeing how dilated you are"), and found that I was about 2 1/2 cm dilated, which was what I'd been two days before at my 39 week checkup.
My OB, who I am absolutely in love with, wasn’t on call until the next day, so I saw the on-call doc. She placed a balloon catheter to kick-start the process of labor. I'll let you Google what a balloon catheter is.
Once the catheter was placed, it was pretty uncomfortable - especially trying to navigate getting up to use the bathroom with the catheter, an IV, and monitors checking the baby's heart rate. I felt like some kind of bionic woman.
With the help of the catheter, my contractions started ramping up in intensity and frequency. We visited with both sets of parents who had come to the hospital and were in the waiting room, despite the fact that nothing was going to happen that night. Even still, it was wonderful to know they were out there. My mom, of course, brought a giant bag of candy. I was eating everything I could because I knew they were going to cut me off at a certain point. I was contracting pretty intensely at that point and several times had to stop talking to let a contraction run its course. They were the real deal.
Here's where I say: women who've done this whole thing without drugs? You are AMAZING.
Our nurses changed at 8 PM and we got a cute young girl named...well I can’t think of what it was. Weird. She was so adorable! Jordan will remember. Anyway, she came in every thirty minutes to tug on the catheter (KILL ME) and the second time she did (around midnight), it came right out, which meant I was dilated to 4.5 cm. All three of us kind of looked at each other in shock, like, “Was that supposed to happen??” (It was.)
We were really excited, because we’d been told when they placed the catheter that it could take up to 12 hours for me to dilate to that point. A little after midnight, they started Pitocin in my IV and the contractions got real. They still weren’t super regular, but they were definitely coming. I was a little bit of a zombie because, since we thought it would be a lot longer before we reached 4.5 cm., they'd given me a sleep aid to help me get some rest in the meantime. Surprise! So I was heavily contracting and also mildly drugged.
The heart monitor was probably the most annoying part of this process. Every time I shifted in the hospital bed to try and get some sleep, the monitor would shift on my belly and this crazy alarm would go off signaling the loss of the baby's heart rate. (In reality, the baby was fine, but it spooked us every time!) I had to just resign myself to be careful about the positions I slept in to avoid setting off the alarm. Jordan slept in a recliner by my bed. Neither of us slept that much. We were too amped and neither of us was really comfy.
At 6 AM or so, our nurse did a cervical exam and told me that I was about 6 cm dilated. Not as much progress as we’d hoped, but not nothing. She encouraged me to get up and walk around to progress labor, so Jordan and I did a couple of laps around the hallway. I was a woozy after (I hadn't eaten anything at that point since Pitocin had been administered and I'm basically an infant who eats every three hours), so we came back in and got settled.
Around 8 AM, our parents were on their way back to the hospital (Mom hadn’t slept all night - Jordan was keeping everyone apprised via text). We had another nurse shift change and met K, who was definitely the toughest cookie of the nurses we'd had all so far. If I'm honest, I wasn't sure we'd totally get along, but I ended up absolutely loving this women, She was my advocate in so many ways.
I was dilated enough to receive the epidural at any point that I wanted, so they told me to give them about a 30-minute heads up when I thought I was about ready to have the epidural catheter placed. I labored for about 2 hours, still contracting irregularly, without the catheter, then went ahead and called for it.
Our CRNA came in to administer the epidural. I was a little nervous about this process, mostly because I’d read that one of the possible side effects is a spinal headache which can last days after labor. Being someone who’s prone to headaches in general, I was really nervous that that would happen to me.
The CRNA had Jordan sit down in front of me and told me swing my legs over the side of the bed, then to round my back like a cat. She administered some local anesthetic first to help the pain of the epidural catheter placement, but when she started to place the catheter, I could still feel lots of it. It wasn’t just “pressure” (medical term that covers a lot of different unpleasant sensation), but actual pain and discomfort. She tried a couple of times to reposition it, but it still felt uncomfortable. She was confident with the placement, though, so we moved forward, and she administered the epidural anesthesia at that point. Once the epidural started taking effect, they laid me back in bed and I started to feel more numb on my right side than my left. They propped my right side up on some pillows to try to even out the pain medication to both sides, and eventually it more or less worked.
Jordan's parents came in to visit, and I had some Popsicles which I promptly threw up (my poor in-laws! That moment went like this: "Yeah, l'm feeling really good! I'm...actually, you know what? I'm about to throw up. I'm so sorry!! I'm so sorry!" Cue: them fleeing the room and me barfing.).
My parents came in to visit and I started feeling the sensation of contractions without the pain, which was awesome. I still had a little unevenness of numbness, but I could move my legs a little and that was kind of comforting. I took this uneventful opportunity to take a quick nap.
It was at this point in the day that things started to ramp up and get a little interesting.
My fabulous OB (henceforth referred to as OB) came on call that afternoon! I was so relieved to see her - I liken it to having a sleepover at a friend's house, and you get sick, your friend's parents have to take care of you, and then you finally get to go home and see your mom and you're SO HAPPY. Yeah. It's like that.
Anyway, she did a cervical exam and said that I was 10 cm! Finally! Jordan had gone to eat lunch with his parents in the cafeteria. I texted him that OB said we'd be pushing within the hour, and he RAN back upstairs as we started preparing to do the damn thing.
OB had told us that the baby was "OP," which is medical speak for "sunny-side up." This is different from breech - his head was down, but he was positioned to come out facing the ceiling rather than the floor. K put a peanut ball between my legs (basically a giant yoga ball, except shaped like a peanut) and laid me on my side to try to get the baby turned over naturally. She flipped me from side to side working on that, and I could still help her at that point because I still had some use of my legs.
Sadly, the peanut pillow didn't quite do its job, and it was time to start pushing. Since we couldn’t get the baby to turn on its own, OB flipped it manually when she came in to start me pushing. At this point my epidural was doing okay - not fully working, but working enough that I wasn't in crazy pain. I pushed for about an hour starting around 2 - just Jordan, K, OB, and me in the room. Things were going well, and I could really focus on moving the baby down. It's wild how your body just kicks into autopilot. I suddenly knew exactly what to do - once I got the hang of focusing on a particular spot to bear down into, I was off to the races. We were joking on and off and the mood was really light. OB kept telling me what a great job I was doing pushing, which was super motivating and helped me progress a ton. (Thank you, Pure Barre, for the core strength and endurance!)
At the Hour 2 mark, I started to have really intense back pain. The best way to describe it is as a deep-tissue, long-lasting muscle cramp that felt like it was in my left hip flexor, left butt cheek, and radiating around to my lower left back. It started out as something I thought I could work with, but quickly became unmanageable. Our poor nurse, K, kept having to readjust my leg (I was on my side, and she was holding my top leg for me as I wasn't able to labor on my back because it made me vomit) per my direction: "Let my knee fall in - okay, now out. Okay, now can you cross my left foot over my right knee so I can lean forward and stretch my hip out?" Nothing seemed to work and it was becoming extremely painful. (We later found out that I was in severe back labor, which is what happens when the baby is flipped face-up and is hitting your tailbone/pelvis as you try to push. The reason I could feel it is because my epidural had been placed poorly.)
Our CRNA came back in and gave me a bolus (basically just a "boost" in my epidural catheter) of fentanyl and lidocaine, in addition to bumping my epidural anesthesia again. At this point, my legs were completely numb and lifeless, so K was holding my top leg up for the rest of our efforts to push (God bless her). Every push made the pain in my side worse and worse, and no position I was in could help. I was also vomiting every 10 minutes or so, so things were pretty unpleasant. The baby’s head was all the way down and OB could see its hair, so in addition to the searing pain in my side, there was tons of pressure to push and finish the job. Eventually the pain was numbed by the medication and I was able to push really hard, but, because I was so numb, I couldn't focus down enough because I couldn't feel the lower half of my body. I thought I was pushing hard, but it wasn't hard enough to get the baby out.
OB said that the baby’s heart rate was dropping significantly during contractions. Since the baby was fine when I wasn’t pushing, so she suggested that we give both me and the baby a break for about an hour.
They stopped Pitocin and I took a nap (super weird considering the circumstances) because I was completely exhausted. We waited about an hour and I was able to conk out pretty intensely. Around 45 minutes later, the pain in my left side came back completely and I started throwing up again. K paged the CRNA, who came back in and did another bolus of fentanyl, lidocaine, and the epidural anesthesia. They’d warned me that the first round of fentanyl is amazing, but every subsequent dose is less and less effective, and that’s exactly what I experienced. I was only about 50% numb at that point. When OB came back in, she said that we had about 15 minutes to get the baby out vaginally in order to keep it safe and asked me if I thought I could do it. I told her I wanted to try, but that unless my left side went totally numb again, there would be no way I could focus on pushing because the pain was so great. I never got more numb and tried to push twice as hard as I had before, but at this point I was totally unable to move the baby down. My focus was shattered by the pain in my side.
OB gently told me that we needed to do a C-section in order to keep the baby safe. I knew how disappointed she was to make that call because she was so intent on getting the baby delivered vaginally, which meant that if she was calling for a C-section, it really needed to happen. A big part of me was extremely relieved to be going into surgery because I didn't feel like I had anything left.
Once she called for a C-section (and she stipulated a STAT C-section, so it was extra urgent-feeling), about 6 different nurses rushed into the room and OB left to get scrubbed. One whisked Jordan away to scrub in, one was unhooking/relooking my IV to different meds/machines, the CRNA came back to tell me about anesthesia options, people were filing paperwork, I was signing stuff, etc. It was chaos, but it was organized chaos.
They wheeled me down the hallway to the operating room, and all I could think about was how badly I hoped we didn’t pass the waiting room in the process because I really didn't want my mom to see me being wheeled into surgery, since, as far as our parents knew, we were back there pushing. Everybody had scrubbed in by the time we hit the door of the OR; OB and the CRNA were both already there and gloved. They moved me from my gurney to the operating table, put a cap on me, and started a scratch test. I remember making sure they grabbed my pillow from the bed because it wasn’t the hospital’s and it’s my all-time fave pillow (#priorities, obviously).
They took a needle and poked up my legs and abdomen, which I couldn’t really feel. Then they started the process of placing a urinary catheter, which was really uncomfortable and I could feel most of. Our badass nurse, K, realized that I could feel that and told the CRNA that it was clear the anesthesia wasn’t working well enough in the epidural alone to do the surgery with just that. The CRNA then decided it would be best to do a spinal block for the surgery, so she numbed the area and administered the block.
At this point, my memory of this whole thing is really spotty. I actually had to ask OB (at my 6 week follow-up last week) how long we were physically in the OR, because I have no concept of how much time passed. The answer was about an hour and 45 minutes. I think the easiest thing to do is explain what happened from a medical perspective, then explain what it was like on my end.
What happened (per my limited understanding of medicine):
Apparently, the epidural catheter was placed really poorly, which is why I was able to feel the pain of back labor earlier. Ordinarily, they would have re-placed the catheter (epidurals have a catheter just like an IV port, and the meds are administered through the catheter) before the C-section, but since the baby was in distress, they didn't have time to do that. Once they realized I wasn't numb in the OR, the CRNA made the call to do a spinal block (which is a more heavy-duty anesthesia). Because of the pain of back labor, I had had so much extra medication put into the epidural catheter that there was tons of anesthesia already in my spinal space, and when the spinal block was administered, all of the anesthesia in my body shot to the top of my spinal column, paralyzing me from the chin down and also paralyzing my diaphragm, making it impossible for me to breathe on my own until the anesthesia burned off. It's what's called a "high spinal," and is really super rare, so if you're reading this as a future mom, this isn't something you should worry about.
My memory of it all:
There's a long, bulleted, play-by-play list in a journal I keep of what this experience was like for me. It's kind of a minute-to-minute experience log. I've gone back and forth on whether or not I want to share it here, and ultimately decided that there were details about this experience that are too grizzly and feel too personal to write about publicly. It was chilling for all parties involved, and it's tough to find the right way to talk about it. I want to give it its due, because it is one of the most life-shaping thing that's ever happened to me; I also want to respect how sacred and traumatic it was by not going on and on about the whole thing.
Suffice it to say that I was fully conscious and aware of taking shallower and shallower breaths until I wasn't able to breathe or speak anymore, and was only able to communicate my panic to OB by widening my eyes to let her know something was wrong. For understandable reasons, the anesthesiologist who they paged out of another surgery (the CRNA was dismissed from the OR) wouldn't let Jordan come in, so I was without him for the scariest part. Lots of it I don't remember. Jordan was finally allowed in as Mac was being born, he told me later. I was being bagged with oxygen and had blacked out.
The anesthesiologist finally tilted the surgical table up about 35 degrees, and the anesthesia had burned off enough that it slid back down my spine and gave me use of my diaphragm again. Once I was coming back to awareness/consciousness, my first real memory is hearing Jordan in my ear saying, "It's a Mac!" (We had a girl name and a boy name picked out, so that was his way of telling me we had a son. So precious.)
The surgery itself, apart for the anesthesia disaster, was a huge success and went incredibly smoothly. Mac's birth was uneventful (in the best way!) and he was completely perfect - 8 lbs, 7 oz., 20 3/4 inches long, born at 5:55 PM. Afterfter he passed his Apgar with flying colors, Jordan walked him over to me and I peeked into his receiving blanket for the first time.
Every emotion I'd been attempting to control for the last couple of hours flooded out of me and I flat-out sobbed at the sight of this tiny little wonder. They put him on my chest and he immediately got quiet. He knew me, too.
He was all at once a stranger and my most familiar friend.
After the surgery was over, our poor parents had been waiting without an update for a long time. They were very rattled to hear what had happened, since the last update they'd gotten was that we were in surgery, but then two hours passed with no news. I can only imagine what that must have been like for them now that I have my own child who I love and want to protect.
When they came back to the recovery area to see us (Mac included), we got one of my favorite moments in my life.
I've watched the video of everyone in the hospital on the day I was born so many times that I could quote everything back to you. My very favorite part of the video is when my parents introduce me to my grandparents. My parents (like Jordan and I) didn't find out whether I was a boy or a girl, and (like Jordan and I) didn't share what names they were thinking about with anyone. The only thing that kept me motivated during our pregnancy to go without knowing the sex and to keep our name choices under our hats was the promise of this moment, when we got to share both pieces of news with our parents for the very first time. I will never forget the moment that all four of these wonderful people met their very first grandchild:
So. WHEW. It was amazing, and a lot, and really scary, and really holy and wonderful.
The high spinal was easily the most frightening thing I've ever gone through in my life, piggybacking on the experience of childbirth, which is already momentous and life-changing in so many ways. Once everything was resolved, the anesthesiologist leaned down by my head and said, "You've got ice in your veins, girl. I don't know how you handled that so well."
I'll take that with me for the rest of my life. I didn't know that I was as mentally tough as I am. I don't say that to brag about how I'm tougher than most people; rather, to say that I think we all have ice in our veins if we can dig down deep enough to tap into it. The trauma of that delivery showed me that I can survive a great deal more than I ever thought possible, and that I can stand on my own in the face of a really harrowing situation. I have never thought of myself as a particularly strong person - kind, maybe, but not tough. Now I know that I can deal with anything that comes at me, that I have the drive and grit to dig my heels in and finish what I start. I am proud of myself. It's not often that women allow themselves to feel pride without apologizing for it in some way, but childbirth makes us into warriors. I didn't know I had it in me, and I will never say, "I can't," again.
And I think that's the way this little angel deserves to grow up: with two parents who've been knitted even more closely together by a life-changing experience, and with a mother who knows beyond a doubt that he is capable of anything he sets his mind to, because he once taught her the very same lesson about herself. I have never loved anything more than I love him.
My mom took this picture the day we left the hospital. I was still walking hunched over a little; swollen, sore, and sleep-deprived. I saw this photo later and it took me a moment to recognize her - this new mother, holding her perfect baby boy.
I am getting to know her, too.
All at once a stranger and my most familiar friend.