*I apologize for the random tense changes in the prose. It’s hard to edit with a newborn. Even when you’re skipping laundry to write a blog post because that’s how you feel more human.
“Do you know your name?”
What a funny question.
“Do you know who this is?”
“That’s Ben. My husband.”
“Do you know my name?”
Meredith is our doula, or birth coach. She has my face between both her hands while she’s asking her funny questions. Sleep comes back to my eyes and I start to drift and there’s a lady doctor standing to my right who wasn’t there before who karate chops my sternum.
“Stay awake. I need you to stay awake.”
Wow. She means business. I’ll try to stay awake.
Meredith is still standing at my head asking me more funny questions. There are a lot of people in the room. Like, a LOT of people. A lot more people than when I fell asleep, and they’re all talking at once. But it feels highly organized, not chaotic, like if you walked into a high-level team sporting event for a game you didn’t know, and nothing that happens makes sense to you, but you can tell that every single movement has purpose and meaning.
“Do you know where you are?”
“At the hospital.”
I can feel my eyes dragging again and fight to keep them open. Karate chop doctor is still watching me.
“Why are we at the hospital?”
“I had a baby.”
I did. I had a baby. They took her to the NICU, I remember. Right before I fell asleep. Back when there were only 4 or 5 people in the room.
I was induced 26 hours before for gestational hypertension, or pregnancy-related high blood pressure. It’s one of the few really good reasons to induce labor before your due date, because it can turn into pre-eclampsia or eclampsia very quickly. Eclampsia is what killed Lady Sybill on Downton Abbey. Gestational hypertension is fairly common, while eclampsia is quite rare, but we like to play it safe in modern medicine.
Actually, I only had “questionable” hypertension. It was off and on, and everyone remarked how lovely all my blood pressures were all throughout labor and delivery. All the same, an early induction seemed the sensible route. I did the first 12 hours unmedicated. Inductions have a reputation for being more painful than regular labor, or at least skipping all the warm-up stages and taking you straight to what they call “active labor,” which is when everything really starts to suck. I don’t have any labor experiences to compare to, but those first 12 hours were pretty hard. I started right after the first treatment with a solid half-hour contraction. 30 minutes without a release. Then I finally started contracting for real, every 3-5 minutes, pain scale ranging from 3-5 (out of 10). Then ranging 5-6 every 2-3 minutes. Then climbing to 7-8 every 90 seconds or so.
After 30 years of migraines, my pain scale is pretty well fleshed out.
0 – pain-free.
1-2 – noticeable, but not worth bothering about. I can sleep through it.
3 – more noticeable. I may or may not be able to sleep through it. I may or may not decide to take anything for it.
4 – I should definitely take something for it before it gets worse. Can’t sleep through it.
5 – The upper limit of full functionality. I can get all my stuff done, but everything is awful.
6 – Rapidly losing functionality. Concentrating more and more on only pain.
7 – Yeah, I’m not getting anything done. There is only pain and the things I can do to manage it mentally. Maybe 50% attention on pain, 50% on pain management (mantras, visualizations, breathing, telling myself the meds will kick in any minute now, etc). Usually also involves involuntary whimpering.
8 – Involuntary weeping. Tears streaming down my face. Ability to focus on pain management drops to 25%.
This is as far as my migraines have ever gotten. I’ve had a few 7-8 migraines in my life. Every single one was very memorable. My contractions had been at 7-8 for a while (an hour? Two? Three?), I’d been contracting for 12 hours, and I was still only 4 cm dilated. I decided I wasn’t up for another 12 hours at this level. Bring in the epidural. Please.
I’d been skittish to try an epidural. There’s something about having a giant needle inserted in my spine that just kind of wigged me out. There are so many ways that can go very wrong. But I have a limit.
My epidural did not go wrong. That was confirmed later. In fact, it was confirmed while Meredith was asking me funny questions. I remember recognizing the anesthesiologist as one of the doctors who had filled up the room, and I remember him announcing, after asking some questions in medicalese, “Ok, so it wasn’t the epidural.” And then he packed his little bag and left.
The epidural had not gone wrong. In fact, it had gone very right. It was like magic. I got to take a nap. In the middle of having a baby. That’s crazy. And the really funny part was, it relaxed me so much that they started wondering if my blood pressure was too low. Hilarious.
Somewhere in there I developed a fever. Not a bad one, I couldn’t tell at all, but they said they’d have to give me antibiotics in my IV, and when the baby was born, they’d have to take her to the NICU for monitoring. Not ideal, but I understand. I’d rather make sure the baby is safe too.
The epidural wore off around 7 cm and they had to give me a topper. Then came pushing, and it turns out my pain scale does have both a 9 and a 10.
9 – Howling. Ability to mentally manage pain drops to 5-10%, even with coaching.
10 – Out of my mind. My body doesn’t even exist anymore. Nothing exists except this tear in the universe that happens to coincide with my consciousness.
Two and a half hours of that. A friend asked me this week if I’m in the “Never. Again.” phase. I told her I’m in the “Planned C-section” phase. ;)
And then the baby arrives, and it all evaporated. Instantaneously. I know that’s a cliche, but it was also a physical reality. All the pain just stopped, and they put the baby on me, and she was slimy and alien and gorgeous and perfect, and we looked at each other for 15 minutes before they wrapped her up and took her to the NICU. And I was so sleepy. There were a few people doing things to me and poking me in places I would normally never consent to be poked, but it didn’t seem important. My midwife called in one of the doctors to do stitching, saying something like, “I can do it, but with something like this, it’ll take me two hour, whereas he can do it in 20 minutes.” That sounds like it might be serious, so I file it away to ask about later (google “3rd degree tear” if you really want to know), but I’m feeling no pain right now and it doesn’t seem important. I just wanted to nap again since I couldn’t look at my baby anymore.
And that’s the last thing I remember before karate chop doctor and Meredith’s funny questions.
Apparently I had an (eclamptic? the doctors were still debating when I was discharged) seizure. And I hear it was really freaky. I completely changed color and was unresponsive. Then I was responsive but not really there. Apparently Meredith had asked me all her funny questions a few times before and I hadn’t been able to answer. My eyes were open, but my pupils were weird, and I could repeat words, but I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t recognize anybody and acted terrified of everybody. My husband says it was a thing to behold, watching all the doctors on the floor descend on the room and go into emergency mode. I lost about half an hour of time. My poor husband will probably have nightmares the rest of his life. When asked how he was by the assistant midwife, he responded, “It’s just so terrifying. All I could think about was Downton Abbey -”
“Stop. Don’t you DARE go there.”
Apparently that’s how scary my seizure was for everyone else. Hubby was not the only one trying not to revisit Downton Abbey. I’m glad I missed it.
After it was clear that I was not going to drift off again, the doctors started gradually peeling off until it was just me and hubby and Meredith and our midwife and the student midwife again. My midwife commented that in 30 years of practice, she’d never seen anything like that. They were glad to have me back. I was glad to be back too, even though I didn’t remember being gone. Hubby went to go find my mom and my sister and tell them what happened. They had followed the baby to the NICU and didn’t know.
I asked for food. More than a day of nothing but ice chips, I was starving. My brother in law had gone way out of his way, all the way uptown, to bring me sushi because that’s what I wanted my post-delivery celebration meal to be, and the nearest sushi place open that late was 50 blocks uptown. They told me I couldn’t eat yet, I had to clear a few blood tests first. We chilled out. They decided I wasn’t ready to move to the post partum ward yet and sent me to the recovery room instead. (I think that’s where C-section patients go post-surgery for monitoring.)
My blood work came back an hour or so later, but it was still wrong. Somehow I had lost a lot of blood, but they didn’t know why, they hadn’t noticed a hemorrhage, so they had to look closer. I had a middle of the night sonogram with more people poking me in places I’m not normally poked, but they couldn’t find the bleed. I asked if I could eat yet, but they said I had to stabilize first, so I’d have to wait for morning blood work. I let Ben eat the sushi.
Morning blood work came back and I wasn’t stabilized. In fact, my blood count was nose-diving. I’d lost half my blood volume in 6 hours. They sent me for a full-body CT scan and still couldn’t find a bleed, and decided that my body was cannibilizing my red blood cells. Apparently that’s a thing that can happen. They announced they were giving me a blood transfusion. Several hours before, they had been giving me a choice between a transfusion and several weeks of iron therapy. Now, they were just giving me a transfusion since I’d signed the consent form giving them permission if it was medically necessary (at which time the midwife who’d started my induction had said she’d never seen anyone need a transfusion in all her decades of practice until that very night, when the girl who was in my room before me had had a massive bleed. We were giving them lots of excitement in that room.) When they were explaining why the transfusion was medically necessary, they threw some numbers at me. I don’t remember what they were measuring exactly (hemoglobin? platelets? something in parts per million?), but they said the normal number was 250. Mine was 50, and still dropping.
I begged for food. I was getting a bad headache from not having eaten in two days (during which time I pushed a baby out of my body). I started crying when I told the doctor about my headache, and she very kindly told me that I couldn’t eat, but there was absolutely no reason why I should have to cry over a headache in a hospital, and she gave me a choice between Percoset and Tylenol. I told her I’d rather never have to take Tylenol for a headache again, and she laughed and said that it did nothing for her headaches either. Then we spent a minute bonding over migraines. Poor girl, she had a migraine when she checked on me the next day. Maybe the bad room juju rubbed off on her.
I spent the day on my wheely bed in the recovery room getting checked every hour or so for blood pressure, oxygen levels, etc. At 10pm they finally decided I could eat a “clears” dinner. “Clears” turned out to be broth, ginger ale, jello, and cranberry juice. I’d never tasted such amazing jello. Life-changing.
The next morning, I had another “clears” breakfast, which was exactly the same as dinner except there was apple juice instead of cranberry. My bloodwork had finally stabilized (apparently I’d had the ideal response to the blood transfusion, which is nice, since so much else had gone wrong). The nice Percoset-offering doctor came back to visit again, asked how I was feeling. I was still ecstatic over being allowed to eat, so my answer was positive.
“Wow. Well, you look a lot better than your labs. Good.”
This became the phrase of the day. At least three practitioners used the same phrase on separate occasions. Though I was a pale, pasty white, and needed help walking because I got dizzy very easily, apparently I should have looked much more like a reanimated corpse, according to my paperwork.
I was finally allowed out of the recovery room and onto the post partum floor, which also meant I was finally allowed to visit my baby. It had been 36 hours since they’d laid her on my chest, and we hadn’t seen each other. If I’d been a little less anemic, I probably would have jumped up and down. As it was, I think I clapped and trembled a little and then cried some.
And she was still perfect. A little less slimy, but no less perfect.