By Gabrielle. Baby Deer sculpture via Etsy.
Carly, like many moms, had it all planned out: an unmedicated birth, followed immediately with skin to skin contact and breastfeeding. It sounded lovely. But as we’ve all probably learned on far too many occasions, the best laid plans often go awry. Add in an unsupportive nurse, and even the most positive and excited woman among us might get a bit thrown off course. It happens.
But what Carly’s story reminds us is that it happens — yes, it happens — and then we go on, doing what we need to do for the ones who need us most, even if it’s a little later or a little differently than we had originally planned. That’s motherhood, isn’t it? Friends, I hope you enjoy Carly’s story about great expectations not coming true. (Spoiler alert: The actual ending, as it happened, is pretty great, too.) Welcome, Carly!
Before I get started, I have to tell you that this boy has the softest cheeks in the world. And he does this sleepy sunflower thing where he’ll move his head so that his face is always facing mine, no matter how I’m holding him. I’m telling you this because if you’re on the fence about having children, I don’t want you to read this birth story and decide that you’re better off with a goldfish. So when I get to the part where I thought I was actually going to not survive his delivery, remember the cheeks and the sunflower face thing.
Calvin’s delivery starts on the day that I didn’t have him – Kyle’s birthday. I didn’t go into labor on that day, obviously, but that was the start of the red alert phase of the pregnancy. Once you get to that point, every sentence finishes with “unless I have the baby”.
“We should get Taco Bell for dinner unless I have the baby.”
“I’ll call you back later unless I have the baby.”
“I’ll do the dishes after this episode is over unless I have the baby.”
We did that for more than a week, carting around our hospital bags, limiting outings to a fifteen-minute hospital radius, and backing out of countless social invitations because surely if we went I would end up having the baby right then and there. We had tickets to see Steve Martin in concert, you guys, and we didn’t go.
We did pop over to the hospital once in the hopes that things had gotten started only to find out that absolutely nothing was happening whatsoever. So I threw myself into recovering from bed rest and getting things done around the house. We even went out and bought a new car; we are officially a minivan family.
On the day that we bought the car, we spent about four hours at the dealership. I plopped down with my cankles up like I was sitting in my living room and got progressively hotter and more pregnant as the day went on. By the time we left with the car, my back hurt and it felt like the baby had gained another pound so we took the car down to my parents’ house to visit with some of my visiting family. They entertained Eva, my mom cooked dinner, and I collapsed on the couch and tried not to think about the phrases “pelvic pressure” and “water weight.” I was having some contractions, but that had been pretty common since April whenever I wasn’t lying down so I chalked it up to the excitement of car buying.
Three hours later, the contractions were bad enough to keep me from eating and it was becoming apparent that Calvin wasn’t waiting much longer. We ended up leaving Eva with my family (without pajamas or her bag or anything) because I knew that we were probably going to be headed to the hospital at some point. I slept in on the morning that Calvin was born and woke up with a backache. I had had it all night and had actually thought it might be a sign of something, but I didn’t have any other symptoms of labor. Kyle was at work so I rolled around in bed for a while, trying to get comfortable. I did notice that my back hurt worse no matter which position I was in, so I called Kyle to let him know how I was doing. He came home with breakfast from McDonald’s and we hung out for a while, relaxing because the house was toddler-free. I didn’t feel like I was in true labor, but when Kyle was getting ready to head back to work (taking our only car), I decided it would be worth it to have him run me by the hospital first to get checked out. I didn’t want to take the hospital bags, but Kyle thought it wouldn’t hurt to have them on hand since we didn’t take them to the hospital when I had Eva. Because, you know, I didn’t think I was in labor.
Fact: that whole “when it’s true labor, you’ll know it” business doesn’t apply to everyone. I have always had to have other people tell me when I’m in labor.
We got to the hospital and we were put into a very crowded triage room with two other laboring women. The nurse came in and frowned a bit when she found out that I was there with only a backache, but she put the monitors on me to start measuring contractions.
It was just about noon at this point and I have to admit that I don’t like being down in labor and delivery in the middle of the day. The night nurses are kind of flaky, but the day nurses always seem like they’re very distracted since there are three times as many people trying to have babies during the daytime, between all the scheduled inductions and the people coming from their doctor’s appointments. Personally, I’m all about going into labor in the evening. Quieter and the TV is better.
My contractions were fairly far apart, but it turned out that I was dilated to a five which is just about the difference between “go home and come back later” and “you are doing this thing.” We were excited when we found out that we were being admitted to have the baby – so different from when Eva came. Eva’s surprise arrival was all stress and chaos, but we felt like Calvin was long overdue and we were focused and ready to receive him. As we got settled into the delivery room, Kyle noted that by dinner time we’d probably have our baby. I clearly remember him saying that because we grinned at each other and that’s the last time I remember feeling happy until after the baby was born.
I knew that I was in for a natural labor and I had been uneasy about that for a while. Actually, let’s call it an “unmedicated birth” because natural labor makes it sound like I’m floating around in a tub in a dim room, humming while long-haired women rub my back. That would have been nice, but it wasn’t my birth plan. I was doing all of the hospital birth stuff, including the IV and the monitors and the laying on my back in the hospital bed, but I was doing it without any assistance from pain medication. Lots of women make this choice on purpose so they can experience birth fully for personal reasons. I did it because my epidural with Eva’s birth was so bad that I had pain in my back for more than a year. Did I want pain medication? Yes, very much. I was just afraid that it would hurt more to get it than to not have it.
Our delivery nurse was not a fan of the fact that I wasn’t having an epidural. She didn’t pressure me, but she made it clear that she thought it wasn’t the best decision and in all fairness she probably sees a lot of people walk in anti-epidural only to change their minds before it’s over. We explained that I had had a bad experience, but she wasn’t convinced. Unfortunately, I think that this contributed to Calvin’s delivery being worse than it needed to be. It’s funny how one nurse can make or break things like this, no matter how many months you’ve been preparing.
For my part, I had been reading up on pain management and natural birth. I had watched tons of videos of women rocking it out without epidurals. I had listened to mantras on iTunes telling me to focus on opening my body like a flower, to visualize holding my baby in my arms, to let the pain flow in and out like ocean waves. Blah blah blah. I even had a birth playlist on my iPod with a little Indigo Girls and a little Warren Zevon. Considering the fact that I knew it was all going to hurt quite a bit, I was feeling pretty calm and ready.
It started out okay. We found Friends on TBS and watched while the contractions began to pick up speed. After a while, I got the iPod out and listened to music while counting the seconds between contractions. I tried to imagine the whole thing as a lightning storm…that once they were on top of each other, it meant the storm was almost over and I’d have the baby. I felt peaceful and focused and steady. And then…
Transition is the part of labor that happens right before the stage where you actually have the baby. It’s well-known as the worst part of labor because it brings all the symptoms you don’t want. For me, it suddenly felt like the room was thirty degrees hotter, the gown was thirty pounds heavier, and I was going to be sicker than I had ever been in my life. The contractions picked up and I started to feel more like I couldn’t catch my breath. I told Kyle to tell the nurse that I was transitioning because I knew that it meant delivery wasn’t far off, but when she came in and did a quick check she said that I was only at a 7 and it would be a while. Then, right before she went out again, she dismissively reminded me that this was labor without medication and I could make the choice to be more comfortable if I’d just get the epidural.
That didn’t make me want an epidural, but it did make me feel very, very alone. I was sure that I was transitioning hard and I had a sense that there had to be something that could be done about the pain outside of an epidural, but nobody was helping me out. That feeling of flying solo made the contractions so much worse because I think I started to panic a little. She was just so sure that I was hours away from delivering and I wondered how I was going to be able to be in so much pain for that much longer. I knew Kyle was there, sitting quietly so that he didn’t distract me from my focus, but I also knew that there wasn’t anything he could do. I was just going to have to get through this and trust that my body knew what it was doing on its own.
It wasn’t long after this that I phased out. When I had Eva, shock and resistance kept all of the details crystal clear and I still remember almost every step of the delivery. With Calvin, everything gets really fuzzy. It could be the hormone that is supposed to help women forget the pain of delivery, but I think I actually maxed out and stopped being able to think. I know that it hurt bad enough that I wasn’t able to inhale. I know that I kept telling myself that making noise wouldn’t help anything, but I think I screamed out at least three or four times. I also know that I yanked out my IV at some point because the nurse was cross about it and she tried to get it back in, first in my hand and then in my arm, while I was having strong contractions only a few seconds apart.
I was dimly aware that Kyle was agitated, but I thought he was just worried about how much pain I was in. It turned out that he was really annoyed with our nurse who wouldn’t listen to him when he kept telling her that he thought I was progressing quickly and then he was mad at her when she was taking so long worrying about my IV. She, in turn, was mad that I wasn’t holding still enough and pointed out that I wasn’t going to get anything for the pain until I got an IV, which was the first time we had heard that there was a pain management alternative to the epidural. She did get that IV in, but by the time she had finished Kyle had already found a different nurse and brought her into the room to check me and all hell had broken loose.
I’m super unclear on these details because I had my hand over my eyes and didn’t move it until long after Calvin was born. I know that the new nurse came in to check me just as I was trying to tell Kyle that he needed to catch the baby. I knew that our original nurse was still messing with my arm and I thought that there was nobody else in the room, so I was afraid the baby was going to be delivered and fall promptly onto the floor with nobody to receive it. The new nurse checked me and then there was chaos, since I’m sure she was surprised to see Calvin right there.
Logic tells me that the NICU team must have been called down and they must have paged my doctor (who was waiting upstairs to be called to the delivery) and other nurses must have come in to help. I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is that they pulled in some random guy from the hallway and he said, “If you need to push, then push” and I pushed and Calvin was born with a fat lip and two black eyes after slamming into my pelvic bone because nobody had been there to slowly guide him out. We had been in labor and delivery for just under four hours.
I had received a handout on skin-to-skin contact right after birth and how beneficial it is for the baby. I indicated that I wanted to do this and they wrote “skin-to-skin” and “immediate breastfeed” on the whiteboard in the room so that everyone would know that I was going to do all the hospital-recommended beneficial stuff. I also told Kyle that I wanted him to be the second person to hold Calvin and I wanted to have the moment of joy where I’d hold the new baby and Kyle would see him and we’d be ecstatic and blessed.
I kept my eyes closed for about 45 minutes after Calvin was born. The random guy from the hallway (a hospitalist who isn’t a part of my OB’s practice) was quickly replaced by my doctor, who after performing heroic cerclage surgery and carefully monitoring me for eight months, arrived just in time to not deliver the baby she had worked so hard to save. She came over to say nice things to me and I know for a fact that I hit her when she touched my arm because I apologized for the next ten minutes, all with my eyes closed. I could hear Calvin and the NICU team sucking crap out of his lungs because he hadn’t been compressed enough during delivery. Kyle was telling me that he was okay and the nurses were standing around talking about how amazing the delivery had been and how crazy fast and how they couldn’t believe that I had just had an eight pound, one ounce baby when he was supposed to only be about five and a half pounds at 36 weeks. They asked if I wanted to see him.
I didn’t. I wanted everyone to go away. Everyone. Including Kyle and the baby. I wanted silence and ice chips and people to not touch me ever again. Someone said “skin-to-skin” and I used a phrase that included swear words. Nobody handed me the baby.
There are a lot of things that could theoretically interrupt bonding with your new baby. You read about them when you are pregnant and you tell yourself that you won’t let any of them happen. Basically, you get scared out of your mind that someone might try to interfere with you holding your baby immediately and then, according to statistics, you’ll never have the same relationship with your child that you could have had. And he’ll probably do drugs. And make $50K less per year on average.
I didn’t hold Calvin for an hour. The room quieted and people left and I opened my eyes and reoriented to the world. I saw him, swollen and bruised, and pronounced him to be awful looking. Then I took my time and got up to use the restroom and brushed my hair out a little and got settled into a clean gown and a wheelchair. Then I held him. And it was all just as lovely and pink and awesome as it was always going to be and I adored him immediately. So don’t be freaked out by all those studies. After eight months of pregnancy and all the trouble I went through to have him, nothing was going to stop me from bonding with that kid, even though I needed a little extra time to myself before we got started.
Our hospital stay was chaotic and underwhelming. They were busier than usual, so we rarely saw the nurses and it took longer to get assistance with the baby. The sleep I dreamed about getting while he was in the nursery didn’t happen because they brought him in to nurse every two hours and after it took me thirty minutes to feed him it usually took another hour before the nursery had time to stop by and pick him up, so I only slept in twenty minute blocks.
Still, it’s amazing to be in the hospital after you’ve had a healthy baby. He was all snuggles and snorgles and peeking at us from his bruised and swollen eyes. The fact that he didn’t have to go to the NICU was fantastic and when they let us take him home two days later it was the sweetest reward after such a tough pregnancy.
Of course, he didn’t exactly stay healthy and he’s had complications from his rough delivery, but that’s a whole different story. No worries, though. Today he’s home with me and he’s delicious.
Thank you, Carly! I love the perspective after the fact, don’t you? “Before I get started, I have to tell you that this boy has the softest cheeks in the world. And he does this sleepy sunflower thing where he’ll move his head so that his face is always facing mine, no matter how I’m holding him. I’m telling you this because if you’re on the fence about having children, I don’t want you to read this birth story and decide that you’re better off with a goldfish. So when I get to the part where I thought I was actually going to not survive his delivery, remember the cheeks and the sunflower face thing.” It’s funny how seemingly torturous moments don’t seem so awful when you’re able to take a few breaths and feel a burst of gratitude for making it through.
Friends, if you’d like to chime in, I’d love to hear about the last major plan you made. Did it all work out the way you dreamed it would? Better? Worse? (Oh, please say better!)