So Much for Birth Plans Part 1
I had been exceedingly determined to have a vaginal birth and was very stringent about allowing even a little doubt to creep in regarding the alternative. I skipped the chapters on C-sections in my pregnancy books, sure I would never need to know anything about them (even though the books ALWAYS said, read this chapter even if you think you’d never in a million years have a C-section), rushing forward to the chapter on vaginal birth stories. I remember feeling sorry, even, for the poor C-section moms, they had it so crappy while I was gonna have it so cool! All the deep evolutionary instinctual thingies would kick in and my body would give itself over to a process hundreds of thousands of years old, actually millions if you take mammals as a starting point, and then after the birth, the amazing mother-specific hormones would kick in and I would feel The Oceanic Love. I fantasized about this moment constantly. Its anticipation was probably a full 25 percent of the reason I had wanted to get pregnant. Included in that percentage though I guess was also the desire for the experience of pregnancy, it should be noted, and that turned out to be disappointing for the most part, what with the constant discomfort, frequent and increasingly severe pain of the tailbone, and near-psychotic irritability driven by things like the entire city smelling like a dog toilet.
Everything was looking perfectly good until the thirty-seventh week when the fetus, or “Little Dude,” turned sideways. My ob congratulated herself several times on the accuracy of her previous fears that this would happen while I problem-solved, still completely sure that I could make it happen the way I wanted. We tried waiting a week. Still sideways at thirty-eight weeks. We tried an external version, where they push the baby around into the right position, using an ultrasound as a guide. It hurt like a bitch but at least it was quick. And then there he was! Popped head-down like a proper baby. I hopped off the table, very pleased with myself and my decision-making skills. Oh, we should just check to make sure the baby hasn’t moved since we last looked, the nurse said and I remember thinking oh goody, we get another look at LD. He sure was cute! But of course, now Little Dude’s head was off to the other side. We went home. I was wracked with anxiety. Chinks were appearing in the VAGINAL BIRTH ONLY armor and I started having break-through, invasive thoughts consisting of “C-SECTION! A STUPID C-SECTION!” followed by immediate self-consolations: “no, no, it will be fine. FINE, I SAY!” Next day I had another ultrasound at the ob’s office. Still sideways. My bright idea was to do another version then immediately induce labor to get him out before he had a chance to turn again. So we did that, this time in the hospital. This version took longer and hurt like hell: LD was on to our tricks at this point and was holding on for dear life, but he eventually succumbed.
Then they hooked me up to an IV to drip the Pitocin. Now, my veins suck, I’ve been told by many drawers-of-blood and IV-installers, but my sister the nurse pronounced my veins fine, and the blood-drawers all idiots. I had no trouble the multiple times they drew my blood over the course of the pregnancy and I knew blood draws and IV’s were not the same thing but I figured, ok, yeah yeah, needles suck, whatever. The nurse poked me and poked me and fished around until I was sobbing. Then they got the other nurse (the one that was “good” at IVs—why couldn’t they have just sent in her fat ass in the first place?). She finally got the little sucker in properly after much more poking and fishing and exclaiming regarding the poor nature of my veins and I was left with an immobilized right hand and a left arm that hurt like a mother f&*#ker and looked like it had been beaten with a bat. Our birth plan was getting more off-course by the second…I had really not wanted to be hooked up to an IV during labor, but because I tested positive for that stupid bacterium that causes problems for like .0002 percent of babies they were gonna push antibiotics every four hours throughout labor. Weak. But now with the Pitocin it didn’t really matter, other than the fact that now LD would be sprung from a vagina full of dying good AND bad flora that I had been carefully cultivating with vagina-specific probiotics to get him off to a good start, colonization of bacteria-wise. I thought of our quaint birth plan, with instructions (or wishes, the kind you put in one hand while you hold a nickel in the other): “we would strongly prefer no labor induction” (well that was out). “We prefer no IV during labor and delivery, if possible” (also out). “We feel strongly that a bathtub in the room is essential” (no rooms with bathtubs were available, what a shock). So ten hours of Pitocin later I finally started going into something resembling labor. They rolled in the ultrasound machine again to make sure LD was still in a proper baby-delivering position and I was filled with dread. I had spent much of the ten hours doing all the stupid housewives’ remedies for turning babies or, in this case, keeping the baby head-down. I rolled around on the ball. I walked around. I tried to visualize the baby starting to work his head down into the pelvis and get locked into position. They belted pillows to each side of my belly (I hadn’t read about this one but the nurse seemed to think it was a smart idea…the doctor laughed at it later). I was exhausted already, it was the middle of the night, and I was just starting labor…wow, I thought, I could be in for like thirty more hours of this. If I was lucky. I did not feel at all confident that LD had stayed in place for ten hours.
And sure enough, the annoying old coot filling in for my ob discovered that LD had turned his little self completely upside-down and was now breach. Turn off the Pitocin, he told the nurse. Talk to your doctor in the morning, he told me.
Next day (after no sleep due to anxiety and much raucous baby-delivering surrounding me on the L and D floor) Dr. Yee came in to chat. She thought the baby was not staying in the right place for a reason. Some reason that wasn’t going to change. She said, you can go home and try to see if he moves but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. You’re not dilated at all and will likely not dilate because there’s no pressure from his head to dilate you. You’re gonna be pregnant for another two months. He’s just gonna keep getting bigger and less likely to be born vaginally. You’re bound for a C-section either way. Now, or later? F#*k it. I said. Let’s do it. I was incredibly sick of pregnancy. I look back sometimes and think we should have waited it out and trusted nature to do the right thing but I was so tired. So sick of the back pain and the awful way my whole body surface felt, like there was liquid pushing out from the inside making me feel tight everywhere. Tight, I would say to my mom, that’s how I feel, tight. And I felt almost incapable of putting off meeting LD. My magic moment approached! How could I leave the hospital with him still lodged in my damn gut? And he was taking over! I don’t even know where my bladder was by that point but it was someplace extremely small and smushed. And I wanted to HOLD him! I kept thinking how much better I would like him once he was outta me. I really kinda hated him at that point.
But I was pissed off and sad. I blamed the old coot with the crappy bedside manner. He should have been checking on me more often and done more to keep LD in place! And what about those stupid nurses with the pillows! As if that would work! I cried. Then I got up and showered, knowing it would be a while before I got a shower again. I hadn’t read much about C-sections (see above) but my sister (she of the three C-sections) had warned me and I knew I was in for major suckage. They trudged me into the OR with a thoughtful, second, butt-covering gown hanging crazy-homeless-person style off my right shoulder (it couldn’t be just put on normally because of the stupid IV). They kept warning me there would be a lot of people in there, as if that were the main thing I should be afraid of. Not, you know, the whole cutting me open part and the putting needles in my back thing, those would be a piece of cake. Just don’t let all the people make you nervous! They’re there for you. They had me scoot up onto the narrow operating table and scrunch over in this very particular way that best exposed my spinal cord to be injected with the magical serum to kill all sensation below the chest. The great thing about spinal anesthesia is that they stick you with ONE needle to numb the area for the SECOND needle which apparently would hurt even worse if it were not for the first needle, which must have been pretty goddamn bad because both first and second needles felt like terrible, terrible ass. But even worse was that it took four tries. So eight needles. I think I’m gonna pass out, I said, somewhere around needle 4. My vitals said otherwise, apparently, and they ignored me. Are you almost done? I asked, maybe around needle six. The anesthesiologist mumbled something about it (me) being difficult to “get.” Finally he “got” it and they swooped my legs up onto the table before I lost feeling in them and I don’t know, fell on the floor or freaked out or something. Anyway it seemed very urgent to get me settled before that happened. Hmm. I remember thinking. It’s weird that they shot me up with that stuff and I can still move my toes. Then I realized I couldn’t, actually. Very weird feeling. What if during one of the eight needle prods they had permanently paralyzed me? I’ll just worry about that until I can move my legs again, I supposed. The surgery itself sucked. You “can’t feel anything” other than a sensation that there’s someone rooting around in your insides, tugging on things, HARD, and all this weird jerking around and stuff, and it was very aversive. Plus I could sort of see the operation in the reflection of the little surfaces on the big OR lights, mostly just red mess and busyness, but it was freaky. I kept trying not to look but, rubbernecker-style, I couldn’t look away for long. I held Mark’s hand and wished for it to be over soon. I was dying to meet LD. Dr. Yee kept complaining that he was not cooperating. At last I heard a soft little gurgly cry and asked, incredulous, is that him? The anesthesiologist pointed over to my right where they had LD on a table, wiping him off and doing whatever else to him. “Oh my GOD it’s really a baby!” was my first thought. We really have a baby! I was not at all sure until then. Then, AAARRRGGGHH. I wanted so badly for my hands to be the first to caress him, to give him a gentle welcome into the world, to soften the blow. I had, for months, pictured the moment the doctor placed the baby on my chest and I would be allowed to languish in maternal bliss, offer him my breast, lay with him skin-to-skin, and relish the radical shift from the most awful pain you can experience to best feeling ever—your newborn on your naked chest. They brought him over all bundled up, and placed him right up under my chin. Hi Baby, I said. It felt unreal. I just knew I did not want them to take him away but they did, and quick; I think he was there for about ten seconds. Gotta take him to the nursery, they said. Mark would go with them to make sure they didn’t switch babies on us (as he was clearly an extremely high-quality baby, anyone could see that) or do any weird things to him. The doctor and her surgery buddy stitched me up and made nice warm chit-chat with me, maybe to try and take my mind off the fact that it was taking them what seemed like six hours to stitch me up when I was SO anxious to get LD back. It also helped me feel like they were remembering I was a person rather than a medical-school cadaver. They finally finished, wheeled me to the recovery room and left me to wait some more for LD to show up. He and his entourage (Mark, nurses) showed up a bit later and I got to hold him again for as long as I wanted. I just stared at his little face. The information that I had just had a baby, perhaps because it was not done through natural means, did not seem to be registering.