At 33 weeks pregnant with Millie, my OB instructed me to go to labor and delivery. I felt miserable; pounding headaches, swelling to point of discomfort, dizziness and fatigue. I left the OBs office completely unable to accept the reality of induction. Instead of rushing to the hospital, I had my husband take me to Arby’s. As I pumped ketchup onto my tray, a lady grabbing napkins said to me, “If you have a girl and see blood in her diaper, don’t be alarmed, it’s her hormones.” What? Suddenly, I had lost my appetite for ketchup.
33 weeks came and went during my second pregnancy yet, everyday the thought of preeclampsia was a very real concern. I checked my blood pressure with an at-home monitor, I constantly analyzed the size of my ankles, and I actually iced and elevated my feet at night. 34 weeks into my pregnancy, we lost my step-father due to a massive heart attack, just four months after unexpectedly, losing my sister. I was fearful that the grief and stress would throw me into labor but thankfully, the baby stayed put.
37 weeks of pregnancy is considered full term; something I never was able to experience with Millie. I still feel a tinge of guilt for not being able to carry her longer. I was ecstatic to have made it to term with this pregnancy and also surprised I didn’t feel entirely miserable. Don’t get me wrong, the pelvic pressure was painful and sleeping comfortably was a challenge, but life wasn’t completely intolerable; nothing like what 33 weeks pregnant with preeclampsia felt like. My OB said we made it to term because of the daily dose of baby aspirin but I like to think that he was comfortable in my sisters arms, in heaven.
At 37 weeks and 6 days, I started having contractions seven minutes apart. Laying in bed, I would check my phone with each pain; 3:07, 3:14, 3:21. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I was being woken up by my alarm. As I was getting ready for work, my husband urged me to stay home and call the doctor. Wanting to save my sick time, I went in to teach. During my planning period, I called my OB to tell him I had contractions through the night. He responded, “get to labor and delivery”. I drove home, snuggled with Mill on the couch, and waited for my baby daddy to come home. My husband packed the car, we kissed Millie goodbye, and this time, we didn’t stop for a cherry turnover.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were sent into triage where a nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, checked my lungs and pulse, and she gave me a sani-wipe and cup to collect my urine. As I sat down on the toilet, I opened the wipe and simultaneously, it jumped out of my hands! The wet wipe flew through the air, nearly six feet, before hitting the tile floor! Reactively, I screamed and then I couldn’t stop laughing! My husband and the nurse thought I was crazy but it kept the atmosphere light; labor terrified me after my experience with Mill.
My vitals were normal except my blood pressure, 118 over 96. The nurse explained that the reading was a mistake; the bottom number “didn’t match” the top number. She checked it again; 135 over 95. She seemed concerned that the readings were slightly elevated so she was going to consult the resident doctor on duty. Of course I was stressing thinking that the pre-e had returned but there were no traces of protein in my urine, so that kept me sane. Waiting for my blood pressure to go down, I ate a bag of mini pretzels, watched an episode of Friends (ironically, it was the episode where Rachel and Ross are at the gynecologist), texted my parents, and peed again. The nurse returned, checked my BP, and it was even higher than before! Over and over again, the cuff would squeeze my arm, release the pressure, and I would dauntingly peek at the numbers on the monitor; my blood pressure remained high. The resident doctor, who looked younger than me, asked about my birth plan. I explained to her that if the preeclampsia had returned, I wanted a c-section, which had been discussed numerous times with my OB. She began explaining to me why she would not give me a c-section, even if the pre-e had returned. I stopped her and said, “I know that I am able to elect for a cesarean birth.” I was no longer interested in speaking to this resident. My blood pressure reading was highest after that conversation.
My OB was in the hospital giving a tour to a newly hired doctor in the practice, so he stopped by my room to discuss my, “options”. He told me that he was admitting me for gestational hypertension. He explained that my history with pre-e made him too concerned to send me home with an elevated blood pressure. The doctor informed us that there were risks to induction, especially premature lung development, particularly in boys. A day before Millie was born, a steroid shot was administered into my leg to better develop her lungs. Unfortunately, there is no evidence shows the steroid being effective after 34 weeks of pregnancy, so the shot was not an option this time around. There is a fine line between gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia and my doctor thought the induction outweighed the risks, given my history. Gestational hypertension is a form of high blood pressure and it occurs in about 6 percent of all pregnancies. Delivery heals the mother from the hypertension.
I was being induced for a vaginal birth, with a c-section as plan B if my blood pressure continued to rise. The doctor promised me that this delivery would be different than my first and that I was being closely monitored. I signed some papers, shoved my underwear into my purse, and tightly held my husbands hand as we left triage. I was full term. This baby spent weeks longer in utero compared to Millie. I’ve done this before; affirmations I told myself walking to labor and delivery.
We started the induction at 4pm with a twelve hour dose of cervadil; a vaginal insert that ripens the cervix. Like a tampon, the medicine is attached to a string. Unlike a tampon, it is placed super far up the vaginal canal (I swear, the nurse was elbow deep). The first four hours on the cervadil were a breeze – mild cramping. My grandma brought Millie to see us before her bedtime. This was the first night that I wasn’t sleeping under the same roof as her. It broke my heart when she didn’t want anything to do with me. She was scared of the machines and my IV.
I was uncomfortable during the next four hours as the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Around 3am, I wanted the epidural but I was only 3cm dilated. The resident OB wanted to wait on ordering the epidural until I dilated further so he offered to give me pain meds through my IV to take off the edge. I urged both him, and the nurse to consult with my doctor because we had discussed this exact situation after my traumatic experience with Millie. I had dilated so quickly with her that I was unable to get the epidural and I did not want that to happen again. Thankfully, they consulted my doctor who approved the epidural.
I gave birth to Millie without an epidural and I was not about to do that again. Although, I was scared that the epidural would hurt, that I would move during insertion and become paralyzed, that it wouldn’t take, or that the baby’s heart rate would drop, I was terrified of another natural labor. I was overwhelmed with the pain from the contractions so I pulled up a video of Millie on my phone, to focus my energy on her pure joy. As I watched, tears rolled down my cheeks; partially due to the pain I was experiencing but also because of my love for her. I was assured that the anesthesiologist was the best they had. He was an older man who talked me through everything he was doing. My husband was asked to wear a mask and a hair cap while the procedure took place. He held my hands as I sat up straight, at the edge of the bed. The medicine felt like a bead of cold water rushing down my spine. I do not remember any pain during insertion. Slowly, my legs started feeling heavy and I knew the epidural had worked.
Pitocin was administered and for the next two hours, 4:30-6:30am, I experienced some mild cramping. The epidural provided great relief to the clinching pain of the earlier contractions. My grandma had joined us in the birthing room. Her presence was calming as she rubbed my legs. My birth photographer, Sarah Shambaugh, arrived and began taking pictures of the process. Around 6:30, it felt like I needed to poop; nothing hurt, I just felt a sense of urgency. I remembered feeling that way before Millie was born and I knew it was time to push. The nurse examined me and sure enough, I was fully effaced and 9.5cm dilated. The nurse called my doctor, who was twelve minutes away. Longest twelve minutes of my life.
I was instructed not to push until my OB arrived. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks in response to the discomfort I was enduring. I told my husband that I didn’t care to wait for my doctor any longer, as long as someone would catch my baby, I needed to start pushing. My bed was raised, nurses helped lift my legs into the stirrups, and a resident doctor began dressing to do the job. In that same moment, my doctor entered the room and prepared for the delivery. I breathed a sigh of relief while grimacing through a contraction.
Pushing was difficult because I couldn’t exactly feel what I was supposed to be doing due to the epidural. I was anxious to push and didn’t like the wait time between contractions. I forced all of my energy down and with every push, the baby moved further through the canal. My doctor was so supportive; using words of encouragement and massaging the tissue so I wouldn’t tear. My father snuck into the room and held up a “little brother” onesie as a means of encouragement. The thought was endearing but I also didn’t want my dad to see my vagina. My husband helped lift my head up towards my chest and my grandma pulled my legs back while I pushed. I could not understand why this labor was taking so long – comparatively to my three push labor with Millie. My OB used his hands to turn the baby’s head in a more opportune position. Impatient, I decided that I didn’t want to wait for the next contraction to start pushing again and that is when the baby progressed enough that my doctor could see the hair on his head. My husband looked – gross. My doctor predicted that the next push would do it; I would meet my son.
Clinched teeth, chin to chest, toes curled; all of the tension released when Wells was born. It is absolutely amazing how exhaustion and pain evaporate away the moment of birth. A wiggly, slime-covered, baby boy was placed on my chest and my entire being began taking him in; he was heavy, he was pink, he had hair, and he was crying. My husband cut the umbilical cord as nurses suctioned fluid from his mouth. We stayed skin-on-skin while my family met him. When it was time to feed him, he latched quickly and correctly, which made nursing simple. While he was on my breast, I felt the bottom of his little feet; so soft.
My sweet, perfect boy. Life may be unpredictable, but my love for you will forever be constant. Welcome to the world, Wells.