I’m a little upset right now, because I can’t find the file where I put down a bunch of notes about Nora’s birth. I wrote everything down in a data dump sort of way, not as a fleshed out story. I knew that as time passed I’d forget the little things, the names of the nurses, the timing of certain events. I wanted to put down the details so I could write it up someday and pair it with Ben’s amazing film photography of the event (nothing graphic, I promise).
After Nora was born, I was disappointed that people really didn’t seem interested in hearing my birth story. Listening is not a strong suit for most Americans, so I didn’t take it personally. But when you have a baby, on some level, you feel like you and your partner invented the whole process. It’s the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to you, but to paraphrase, newborn babies happen every day.
Regardless, I know at least one person who will want to know the whole story someday, Nora.
Here’s what I remember…
I was in early labor for days, partially dilated with intermittent contractions. My doctor had given me the “any day now” nod, even though my due date was more than two weeks away. Ben would take me to Mount Tabor Park for long walks, to get things moving.
On a Monday, I was feeling miserable, so I called my OB’s office to make my Tuesday appointment earlier in the day, hoping they would take pity on me and induce. Monday night, I had to get up every eight minutes to pee. Every. Eight. Minutes. Tuesday morning, my OB’s office called to tell me my doctor was sick, so my appointment was being cancelled. In tears, I called my perinatologist’s office. (I had three doctors, a resident, an attending and a perinatologist because my gestational diabetes put me in a high risk category.) They had an opening a few hours away. I was relieved, and went outside to mow the lawn. That’s right. Mow. The. Lawn. I was willing to try anything to bring on active labor. But, I couldn’t get the lawn mower started because Ben had converted it to run on propane, making it more difficult to start. And my neighbor caught me trying and told me to knock it off.
I drove myself to the perinatologist’s office, which is in a wing of the immense Oregon Health Sciences University hospital. I told my doctor how wretched I felt. She put me up on the table and said, “No wonder you’re miserable. You’re water’s broken.” There had been no gush. I had what’s known as a “high leak.” Likely, Nora had kicked a hole in the top of the amniotic sac and fluid was leaking out at a trickle — which explained my ludicrously frequent trips to the bathroom. I had no idea this could happen. My doctor wasted no time in getting me in a wheelchair and I was pushed to the birthing center while I called Ben on my cell phone.
“Apparently, my water’s broken,” I said.
“Since when?” he asked, as confused as I was.
Ben’s job was to leave work, pick up my suitcase, drop our dog off at boarding and hustle to the hospital. It was a warm, sunny day in May. Light was streaming in the window of my room. Ben arrived with my luggage and his camera, a bit breathless and expectant. It was about one-thirty in the afternoon. I was ecstatic, this baby is coming out!
We met our nurse (here’s where my notes would come in handy). I think her name was Janice. She was about our age and we immediately clicked. Her boyfriend was into film photography, too. She admired Ben’s Leica. I admired her Danskos. She told us what to expect. Since my water was already broken, they wanted the baby out today, to reduce the risk of infection. This would mean I would get Pitocyn to bring on labor. We discussed options. I didn’t walk in with a full-blown birth plan. This wasn’t a process I felt I could control, and I didn’t want to be disappointed if the experience didn’t match my expectations. I wanted to play it by ear and do what felt right at the time. Pitocyn can cause very strong, painful contractions, so we discussed the possibility of an epidural. I decided to wait and see. She warned me that at the point I decided to get one, it would take at least a half an hour to get it administered. Once you get an epidural, you can’t really tell if you have to pee, so most people get a catheter. I took a wait and see approach to this as well.
They started a fetal monitor, an IV and Pitocyn. Not much happened for a while, the contractions became more regular, but not terribly painful. Janice suggested we walk around. The IV bag was on wheels, so Ben walked me in circles around the birthing center. When a contraction would come, I’d stand still, and practice my Lamaze breathing while looking at my focal point object. It was a heart Ben made me for Valentine’s Day, made of brass, with a little brass heart nestled inside, to symbolize Nora in my belly. (I know, he’s amazing.)
I was handling the contractions pretty well, but Ben gently suggested I start thinking about asking for the epidural while things were still manageable. I was very short on sleep, and maybe it wasn’t the best idea to attempt any feats of daring, like a “natural” birth on Pitocyn. Especially considering I had hemorrhoids the size of kumquats. Smart man.
As promised, it took awhile to get the epidural. When the doctor showed up, he gave a detailed explanation of how he was going to stick a needle in my spine. I took one look at Ben’s pallid complexion and gave him permission to take a coffee break. Once the procedure was over, I relaxed. It took Ben awhile to get back from his coffee break. When he returned he explained that he had accidentally locked himself out of the hospital. He wandered around until he found a kind security guard who let him back in. Good thing they put admission bracelets on daddies, too.
The nurse asked if I had to pee, and as I realized I had no idea, I decided to get the catheter. I was now of the mindset that the more they could take off my plate, the better. Soon, they increased the Pitocyn to speed things up. Slowly, the pain crept back in, but only on the right side. Then it quickly got worse. Every contraction was like being stabbed with a big knife on the right side of my belly. The nurse called for the anesthesiologist. I got pissed about how long it took him to come back. When he showed up, I was crying. I can’t remember what he did, but the pain finally went away.
Sadly, it was now about eleven at night, and Janice’s shift was ending. Our next nurse was great, too. But she wasn’t Janice. Also, my doctors were dropping like flies. My normal OB (the resident) was sick. They called my attending and he had been awake for about 48 hours, and it was decided he shouldn’t deliver another baby until he got some sleep. My perinatologist was not the doctor on call for her office that week. Nora was delivered by a bunch of doctors I’d never met before. Thankfully, they were all terrific. Except the resident was too talkative. She would have been obnoxious in large doses. (After my labor she told me I had a “roomy pelvis.” Screw you! I thought, I’m a good pusher!)
I think I remember that they had to break my water again so it would gush. I think that’s when they found the meconium. Nora had her first bowel movement in utero, which can cause the lungs to aspirate. They called in an emergency resuscitation team, in case Nora was in distress when she came out. This was scary, but on some level I knew she was okay. And it was a relief to see my medical team so prepared for anything.
Finally, a sleepy attending doctor arrived. It was time to push. Pushing took some time, too and everyone started to look a bit bored. I briefly wondered if I was doing something wrong. Then it got exciting, there was progress, Nora was crowning. I asked Ben to do the counting to ten for me while I breathed through contractions, and he totally missed the first round and the nurse had to do it. He reports we both gave him withering looks. He did great after that. The doctors did not even have their scrubs on and all of the sudden I was told to stop pushing. What? Ah, no. Not an option. Ben said the doctors put their scrubs on faster than he thought humanly possible, the looked like scrambling cartoon characters. I was given the go-ahead to push and Nora came out like a little cannonball. She shot out. I didn’t see it, but Ben did and he said everyone looked stunned at her velocity. It was 3:11am on May 16th, 2007.
In a moment, the little visitor was on my chest. Ben and I marveled at her as the doctors fussed over post-birth activities. She was here! She stared at us. We stared at her. Ben picked her up, she pulled on his beard. Our life together had begun.
Join me tomorrow for Part Two.