September 21, 2009

Part 3 of the Birth Story, or How I Almost Died

I've been debating on whether to write about the events that occurred after Luke was born for a couple of weeks now. We were really hesitant to share this part of the story in any public way at first. We never mentioned it on Facebook, nor did we share it en masse with the congregation. I think our reluctance came not from a need for privacy, but from the desire to not freak everyone out when the situation resolved itself rather quickly and I was fine.
However, now that some of the initial zombiness of having a newborn live in your house has worn off and I've had more time to think and gain some perspective on my little medical emergency, I think it may be okay to write about it.

Before I start on Part 3 of this exciting Birth Story, I want to assure you that I am fine. Luke and I were still discharged less than 48 hours after his birth. My 2 week check-up with my Ob/Gyn went well. And beyond the mind-numbing exhaustion of never getting more than 3 hours of sleep at a time, I am physically in great shape and healing fast. I've already lost most of my pregnancy weight and I've worn non-maternity pants 3 days out of the last week. Including jeans that ZIP! and BUTTON!
Okay, now that I've hopefully waylaid any potential fears about my health, I'm just going to go ahead and be dramatic, cause there are hopefully going to very few times in my life that I get to say this...But about an hour after delivery, I almost died. Luckily, I was so out of it that I didn't have to deal with the panic of that reality until a couple of days later. When, unluckily, I was pumped full of outrageous hormones that made me cry. A lot. All the time. It was fun for everyone.

Now, however, I am feeling better and have lost about 5 pounds of extra hormones, so it's not so hard to revisit those scary hours anymore. So, here we go...

After Luke was born, and they had taken him to get cleaned up, things progressed normally for me. The placenta was delivered and I got all "repaired" without any complications. They turned off the epidural and took out the Pitocin drip. I was really looking forward to getting a nap and getting to hold Luke again. My mom had managed to make it to Charlotte just about the time of the birth, and we finally got her text messages at this time and rescued her from the waiting room. She came up and got to meet Luke before he went to the nursery for his bath.

The plan was to let my legs wake up, and as soon as I was able to stand long enough to get to the bathroom, we would be moved to the postpartum wing. Luke was doing well and we were planning on keeping him in the room with us as much as possible.

My left leg was having a hard time waking up. Even after the epidural had been off for over an hour, I still had no control over it. So, as I laid around waiting for it to get feeling again, I began noticing that my bleeding was happening in these little gushes.

I knew that there was going to be a lot of blood, even after the delivery. The nurses, obviously, prepare you for it and help you take care of it all. They gave me instructions to let them know if it felt like I was soaking through the pad they had placed under me. With these little gushes, I kept having to tell whatever nurse was coming in about it so she could help change the pad. Eventually, it began to be too many pad changes and the nurses began to worry. My doctor was still with another patient, so they brought the nurse midwife who had delivered me back in to exam me. The top of my uterus felt nice and hard and everything seemed to be completely normal. However, after another few pad changes, they were still worried. So they did another exam and checked my uterus for clots. They did this a couple of times, but everything seemed to be clear. I appeared to be clot-free, and there didn't seem to be any piece of the placenta left behind, or any other "normal" complication.

So, they tried to reassure me and helped me turn on my side so that I could rest. The nurses kept monitoring the bleeding, and eventually my doctor made an appearance to check in. As I rolled over to my back to get more comfortable, I felt a much larger gush of blood. As I looked down, I could see an alarming amount of blood flood onto the bed. And it didn't stop gushing. After this point, my clarity on the time line and events gets a little fuzzy. I know that all of a sudden, my bed was flattened and the room got crowded with people. I was incredibly hot and sweaty. I don't know exactly what all was happening below my neck, but I know I was hyper-focused on getting Travis to wipe my face with a cold cloth.

While I keep calling this whole situation scary, I wasn't really scared at the time. I think I was too out of it to really process the seriousness of what was happening and what could potentially happen if they couldn't figure out why I was bleeding. But I know it was a really scary situation for Travis and my mom. (And also apparently for the rookie nurse that was in the room who didn't know how to put her game face on. Both my mom and Trav noticed her and didn't exactly appreciate her panicky looks.)

And while they had turned my epidural back on and started pumping me full of drugs, all the poking and prodding on my stomach hurt so bad. I didn't have any response except to moan. That's all I could do. Just moan and close my eyes. My blood pressure was dropping like crazy and my heart rate was through the roof. Apparently, my BP got down to 50/30 and my heart rate got up to 160 and stayed way up for many hours. I couldn't see the bleeding anymore, and beyond the ceiling tiles and glimpses of Travis' face every once and a while, I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to see anything, so I wasn't really aware of what all was going on.

They tried a lot of things, but they were still uncertain why I was bleeding when everything seemed to check out ok. I know they used the ultrasound to check my uterus for any tears or placenta pieces, but that didn't turn up anything either. At some point, and honestly, I have no idea when they came to this conclusion or how they did, they seemed to decide that the bottom half of my uterus was not contracting the way it should. My doctor made a point of coming to my side and talking to me about what they were going to try and what the consequences would be if it didn't work. They were going to insert a balloon into my uterus and slowly fill it with liquid until it put enough pressure on the bottom part to stop the bleeding. If that didn't stop the bleeding, we were heading to the OR. I don't remember being scared by this, but I do remember thinking that it was going to be a pain to recover from that and how I was dreading being stuck in a hospital bed for a long time.

I didn't exactly have a lot of perspective at that point in time. Obviously. No thoughts about losing my uterus at 27 or what might happen if you just keep bleeding and bleeding. No panic about leaving my brand new son without a mother. Just focused on the inconvenience of recovering from surgery. Maybe for once, my ever present pessimism wasn't working and my brain didn't even go to the worst case scenario. I wish I could have granted that oblivion to Travis and mom. I'm sure they were way too aware of the seriousness of the situation.

After this point, the story speeds up and loses it's gloominess. The balloon worked like a charm. My bleeding slowed dramatically and within a few hours was back to normal. After having a blood tranfusion later that night, my BP came back up and my heart rate eventually slowed. Within 12 or 14 hours, I was moved to post partum, and 24 hours later I was cleared for take off. The first 24 hours after the crisis were incredibly uncomfortable...lots of failed IV attempts, BP checks every 15-30 minutes all night long, compression booties that made a lot of noise and were hot and uncomfortable, catheters, and my left leg didn't wake up until almost 36 hours after the epidural was turned off. But it was only 24 hours, and I survived.

It was not exactly the post partum experience I was planning for, and unfortunately, there isn't anything from stopping it from happening again. They'll be able to treat it more aggressively and plan better if it happens next time, but there doesn't seem to be any explainable reason for why it happened at all.

But that's it! I bounced back so much faster than I thought I would physically and I finally was able to process all of least as much as I cared to. I don't really want to spend too much time dwelling on the what-if's since we were so blessed to get such a great outcome.

So no more birth stories. But there is this pretty adorable baby who lives with us now who I am sure will provide much fodder for writing.


First days at home

Still haven't gotten a good picture of the dimple, but this kid has my heart.

September 19, 2009

Birthin', Part Two

I spent 9 months thinking about, obsessing about, worrying about, and anxiously awaiting the moment our baby would be born. I read the book the doctor gave me, I read the books my neighbor gave me, I read the books I found at the library, I read the books everyone told me I had to read. And yet, surprisingly, I wasn't quite prepared for what it was going to be like.

(Ok, so that was me being sarcastic. It's been 3 weeks, I can laugh about it now. Almost.)
As I said before, I really wasn't mentally prepared for what unmedicated labor was going to feel like. I'd read about making a birth plan, but in all honesty, I didn't have really strong feelings about how I wanted to give birth. I knew I didn't want narcotics, for various reasons, and I knew I wasn't against having an epidural, but beyond that, I was fairly ambivalent about it. So, when the contractions started to get serious and things with the epidural went haywire, I kept thinking about how I'd failed at this. It wasn't an overwhelming sense of failure, but more of a regret that I hadn't taken it seriously enough. As I sat hunched over that pillow, trying desperately to breath through the contractions while they messed around with the catheters, I just went inside myself. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed, trying to remember to breath, and holding onto Travis' hand for all I was worth. It was a swell way to spend an hour or two.

The epidural did finally take affect and I was more than ready to take a nap. I had slept really badly Monday and Tuesday nights, and after staying up all night Wednesday, I was beyond exhausted. The nurses assured me that it would be a couple of hours and that I should get some rest. About 20 minutes later, I began to shake a little. I knew it was a side-effect of the epidural, and they weren't bad, so I just casually paged the nurse to ask for a blanket...but not to hurry. Also around this time, I noticed that the pressure I had been feeling in my pelvis had moved to my bottom. It was only intermitten at first, but over the course of about 20 minutes, it became constant. It wasn't painful, just weird. Travis had returned at this point and given me a blanket, so I wasn't as concerned that the nurse hadn't come by. However, I began to wonder just what the pressure could mean. At this point, I had to remind myself that I wasn't inconveniencing the nurses by asking them to come into my room. The hospital had a one-to-one ratio for labor and delivery nurses to patients, so it's not like I was prying her away from someone else. So, I pressed the button again, and asked to have her come by. She was apparently unavailable, so another nurse came into to check me. She did a quick exam and laughed. Apparently the pressure I had been feeling...well, that pressure was a baby. She said it was time to push and she went to get my nurse.

It was surreal. After all those months, and after such a long day, the time had finally come. I was so overloaded at this point that I wasn't really emotionally processing any of it. I remember thinking, though, that I had really been looking forward to that nap. Oh, well! It was showtime.

Pushing ended up being a lot easier than I thought it would be. With the epidural, I wasn't feeling the contractions at all, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to push very well. But it wasn't hard, at first. Then I started to shake uncontrollably. The shivering had been fairly light earlier, but it kicked in hardcore about the time I had to push. It was awful. I couldn't believe after all that had gone on that afternoon, that I was still going to be thwarted. My jaw was killing me cause I kept clenching it to deal with the shaking. I even had Travis try to massage it because the pain was so distracting. It zapped all my energy to push.

However, despite the shaking, I was still able to deliver within 30 or 40 minutes. My doctor happened to have another patient who was delivering at the same time, so a midwife that was part of the same practice came in to help deliver. At that point, I really didn't care who down there. I just wanted to stop shaking. After all my worrying about the pain of giving birth, I never expected that the one thing that would wear me down was shaking.

So, with a little coaching and a lot of encouragement, Luke James Norton was born at 5:21 PM. He was and is perfect. All 10 fingers and all 10 toes, cute dimple in his left cheek, and a little Travis-esque face. After all those months of carrying that baby around and then giving birth to him...the kid looks nothing like me. Where's the justice in that? Oh well. If he can't look like me, at least he looks like my favorite person. :)

September 14, 2009

The Birthin' Story, Part One

When I went into my 36 week appointment a couple of weeks ago, I had prepared myself for the news that after she examed me, she'd say everything was on track and that I had 4 more weeks to go. My pregnancy has been so normal and textbook, and I had no reason to expect anything other than that...Even though I was very ready to not be pregnant anymore. That cute little belly bump had gotten very big and hadn't dropped yet. I couldn't breath. I couldn't get comfortable. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't wait to meet the baby who'd been lodged under my ribs for months.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that I was already 2cm dilated and 50% effaced. My doctor predicted that the baby was already at 7.5 lbs, and that if he hung out until his due date, I might have a 9 lb baby. *gulp* I knew, and many people reminded me, that I could walk around with those numbers for weeks and it didn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I was still excited and hopeful that maybe I'd get to be one of the lucky ones who delivers early.

I spent the next week finishing up little (inane, unnecessary) projects that were of utmost importance to my nesting brain and monitoring every little pang and cramp that I felt (or imagined I felt). When my 37 week appointment came around the next Wednesday, I talked myself out of expecting any progress to have been made. And for the most part, everything checked out the exact same. I was 3cm dilated, but everything else measured normal. I was seen by a different doctor than normal, and it felt like his exam was a little...aggressive. He also had the personality of a rock. But as he finished up, he made the bold proclamation that I was definitely going to go early, and he predicted within the next 10 days. I thought he was being cruel to give me such information. I just knew he'd jinxed me into a 42 week pregnancy.

And yet, I still passed along the information to Travis and family. I repacked the hospital bag, took pictures of my belly to see if I could tell if I'd dropped or not, and I anxiously monitored the post-exam cramping I had. Cramping that lasted for at least 6 hrs longer than it had the week before, but still disappointedly came to an end around 5 PM that night. So, I took the dog for a long walk, took a hot shower, and resigned myself to being pregnant forever.

(As an aside, TV has been crappy all summer. I don't remember what we watched last summer, maybe because I worked with teenagers and they had control of the remote, but either way, TV has royally sucked all summer. So, with that disclaimer, I will admit to the following events...) I was watching Crash Course when my water broke later that night. I watched some neurotic couple intentionally flip their car over to see how far they could slide, and it made me laugh. And with that little laugh, I felt a pop and gush and was certain I'd just peed on myself. However, after I realized I had no control over it and that every time I stood up, it kept happening, the butterflies took flight in my stomach. This was it.

Since I wasn't having regular contractions, I knew I was in for a long night. I'd heard many times that once your water breaks, they want you to have the baby within 24 hrs. The doctor made us come into the hospital to get checked out, but I was certain of what had happened. We took our time, packed up our things, got Henry squared away, took a couple of deep breaths, and away we went.

We arrived at the hospital in downtown Charlotte around 11, Wednesday night. Once I'd been admitted and it had been confirmed that my water had indeed broken, I got hooked up to the monitors for a little while. The contractions were almost non-existant, so they sent us to walk the halls for a couple of hours. At this point, it's almost 2AM and we are both exhausted. My contractions started but were inconsistent and weak. So, they gave me an Ambien and told me to sleep. They were going to start the induction at 5:30 if nothing else happened.

I slept hard and before I knew it, they were coming in to start the IV. I'd heard some rough things about Pitocin, but I wasn't having contractions at all at this point and I knew the clock was ticking.

Throughout the morning, my contractions got stronger and closer together, but were still not enough to get things moving. My numbers stayed the same during most of the morning, which was very discouraging. I wasn't comfortable enough to sleep, and I hated being tied down to the IV poll. Around 2, my doctor came back in to check my progress, which was the same it had been. However, she discovered a forebag, which she ruptured, and cranked up the Pitocin again. And after that...whoa, boy. Things got going good. Within the hour, I was begging for the epidural.

(A note about natural childbirth-I'd never made any plans to have a completely natural childbirth. My goal had been to not do narcotics, but to see how long I could make it without getting an epidural. I really hated the idea of being stuck in bed for hours and I was nervous about having the catheter in for a long time. I had a great fear about ripping it out by moving around. After my short time of hard labor, I have a new appreciation for women who can mentally tough out labor without meds. I wasn't mentally or physically prepared for what it was going to be like and I am grateful for having the option to not feel it.)

The epidural, while a wonder in the end, was quite the ordeal to get done. I got to be one of those lucky women whose epidural doesn't work the first time. My left leg went numb, but not my right leg, nor did the pain from the contractions abate at all. So, now I'm stuck in bed and I'm having these hard contractions, all the while, they are trying to fix the epidural. In the end and an hour later, I had a second catheter put in. This one worked.

Finally, after hours, I got a break. I rolled onto my side to take a nap and sent Travis off to get some food. This would be my last hour of calm for days. If only I had known.

To be continued...