Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I look in the mirror set in front of me. My face is crimson. I’ve been pushing for two hours. Somehow, after much protest, I’ve ended up flat on my back, with my knees in the air. I’ve been going at this for exactly 52 hours. I can see her head crowning…
“Almost,” I tell myself. “Almost.”
“It’s a conehead,” Dr. Lin says. “A really big conehead.” After her head is out, it takes five more pushes to get her body to escape mine. I have never been so exhausted. 52 hours. 52 hours of contractions. 52 hours with minimal food and fluids. 52 hours without sleep. 52 hours of relaxation, fear, agony and bliss. 52 hours to change a life.
The doctor hands her to me. There is a collective gasp as I clutch her to my chest, unsure what to feel, so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open. I see the large cone coming at me, sprinkled with dark, beautiful hair. I see her face, crumpled and serene. But she is not crying. She is slightly blue. She’s been stuck inside of me for far too long, and rather than bonding with her like I’d planned, she is whisked off to get things moving. The cord is clamped. The pain, the hours, everything vanishes as I watch them take her from me, as I hear myself ask that dreaded question: “Is she okay?”
And the silence that ensues. But she is okay. She is better than okay. She is perfect. Already, I know that she is a fighter. We have waged the ultimate war together. We have had one of the longest journeys to meet each other, and from here on out, nothing will ever be as hard as our journey to get her here.
After this, I can do anything.
They bring her to me, freshly swaddled. I touch her face. I clutch her long fingers with the beautifully shaped fingernails. I look at Alex and my doula, Stephanie Gordon, and my mother, who has been watching from the corner of the room.
“Holy shit,” I say. “I did it.”
Life has arrived. And she is beautiful.
Monday, May 28
I wake with forceful contractions. This is a process that has been going since last Wednesday, when I went to the doctor and she checked me. I lost my mucus plug and began getting contractions. My best friend, Nikki McFadden, even took the Megabus up on Wednesday night, as we figured labor was imminent. Five days later, we were still waiting. But when I woke, they were getting stronger and closer together. I texted my doula and she told me to let her know when they were 5 minutes apart. I stayed up with each one, rocking and moving and getting into the rhythm of things. At 3:18, they intensified. By 6:30, I thought she should come over and by 9, she was here, and the two of us began our epic journey together… none of which I could have done without her. She was with me every single step of the way, as was Alex. My support team. My saviors.
We went on walks. We danced, we moved, we exercised, we listened to Hypnobabies (all you mothers-to-be out there – DO this. It was another savior on this road to birth.). Stephanie and Alex would rub my back and allow me to rock with the pressure waves as they came every 2-3 minutes.
As I had tested positive for Group B strep (a healthy bacteria in your gut that can colonize when pregnant and pass vaginally to the baby. If it does – which is less than 1% of the time – it can have serious consequences), I was trying to wait until my water broke to go to the hospital. The moment I got to the hospital, they would hook me up to antibiotics to prevent a possible infection to the baby. I was trying to avoid unnecessary intervention.
But as the night wore on, the contractions stayed 2-3 minutes apart, about 1:30 in length. They were getting stronger. Alex and I took a bath to try and calm and relax me. I was handling each one beautifully and wondered if this could even be false labor, as I figured the pain would be much, much worse. But I was almost enjoying it. Being at home, listening to music, moving with each one…
I knew I could do this.
We decided to go to sleep that night. I figured in the middle of the night we would be going to the hospital. I had my 40 week doctor’s appointment the next day at 9:30, so I figured worst case, I could go and see how dilated I was. At midnight, I woke with the most intense pressure waves yet. I got out of bed and stayed in the bathroom, writhing in agony, unsure if I should go to the hospital.
I decided to wait.
The next morning, they continued and we decided to pack our bags and head to my regularly scheduled appointment. I had a protein shake… my last meal. Had I known, I would have eaten a house.
I dealt with the contractions in the car, breathing as best I could. We got to the doctor and my doula and Alex went with me. My doctor checked me and saw that I was at 6 cm. I was a little disappointed and didn’t understand how I’d already been in labor over 30 hours and was only at 6. She said my water was bulging and she could literally have broken it with her fingernail.
She looked at me. “This is what I suggest. Go admit yourself to the hospital, get your water broken and have this baby in the next two hours. I know you can do this naturally, but what gets to people is the exhaustion.”
I nodded. I was sleep-deprived and physically and mentally drained. I decided to do what she suggested. We left, intent on breaking my water on my own. Nikki, Stephanie and I took a long walk around the hospital, over near the lake. I tipped my head up to the sky and placed my hand on my belly. This was it. The last moments of pregnancy, the last moments before I met my daughter. We walked and breathed and I moved through each contraction, willing my water to break. It didn’t.
At the hospital, we had to go to Triage because Labor and Delivery was full. We were ushered to this awful room where a very bitchy nurse told me we had to start the antibiotics and I’d have to have them for at least 4 hours before they broke my water. I told her no, that’s not what my doctor said. We argued, and miraculously, my contractions stopped. I’d heard about stressful situations halting labor, and I felt myself begin to panic.
I had her call my doctor and luckily, our room was ready upstairs. The contractions came back, and our room had a beautiful view of the lake. They gave me the Penicillin and then capped my IV so I could move around frely. I put on my own clothes and Stephanie and I begin dancing and listening to music and walking around.
Dr. Foley entered (a doctor I had not liked upon previous visits, but who turned out to be perfect for the first part of my delivery). He checked me and saw that I was already 8 cm – just from the walk over. I felt myself get excited, intent on breaking my water myself.
He said he’d check back in a couple of hours to see where we were. I was on a mission. Stephanie and I did walking lunges and played my labor playlist, listening to Tool and rap and everything in between.
My nurse was amazing. She’d had 4 natural births and even had one child in Venezuela. Both the doctor and nurse couldn’t believe I was up, laughing and walking around at 8 cm. I was proud of myself for how long I’d hung in there – how beautifully it was all progressing and how, in a matter of hours or less, I’d meet my little girl.
Stephanie fed me bananas and blackstrap molasses for energy. We roamed the halls and waved to my family. I breathed and let the pressure waves take over my body.
Finally, the doctor checked me and decided to break my water. The fluid was clear and he said things should really progress. I stood up and instantly felt pressure and the urge to push. I could tell her head had dropped and I told the nurse I felt pressure.
She checked me and said I was fully dilated. There was just a tiny cervical lip left. “I’ll go get the doctor!” she said.
I looked at Alex and Stephanie, beyond excited. This was it. We were finally here, after nearly 40 hours of hard work and nonstop contractions. I was exhausted but knew I could muster the strength to push my daughter out of me.
The doctor came back in and examined me. He furrowed his brow and said I’d dropped back down to 7 cm. I looked at him, bewildered.
“What? How?” I asked.
He felt around and said that her head felt transverse (her head was facing sideways) and wasn’t lining up to go straight down. He said he’d give it a bit of time to see where we were at. (Stephanie is convinced it’s Ina May’s “sphincter law” – I was so relaxed with the female nurse, but the moment his hands went forcefully inside me, she thinks he shifted things.)
I felt exasperated. What had just changed from when Mary checked me to now? I slowly got up, slightly discouraged, and that’s when everything changed. Suddenly, the contractions came hard and fast – but they were unlike anything I’d experienced prior. They hammered my entire body, causing convulsions from head to toe. They lasted two minutes in length with approximately 3 seconds between. Three seconds.
Each one was harder, stronger and literally shook my entire body. In all my life, I’d never felt anything like it. I got into every position I could think of and nothing helped. I began to get desperate. I endured this excruciating agony for two hours, unable to breathe, unable to get any sort of break.
“This isn’t normal,” I moaned to Alex. I gripped his shirt, his collarbone. I dug my face into his chest. “Please. Please help me. I don’t know what to do. Something’s wrong.”
We tried to take a shower. We tried to get me on a birthing ball. We tried all fours. The sounds coming out of my mouth were not my sounds. I couldn’t see through the pain. I couldn’t move. I wanted to die.
Finally, the doctor came in and told me he wasn’t sure the baby was going to fit (apparently my pelvis is extraordinarily small – something they might want to tell you BEFORE you have a baby) and that I was probably looking at a c-section. Everything was going wrong and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even get thirty seconds between these contractions. He needed to check me to see what was wrong, but I was literally writhing in agony.
He gave me three options: give me a narcotic that would help a little but not really do much for the pain and would most definitely pass along to the baby; give me an epidural, so he could at least examine me and see what was going on, or do a c-section to get her out of there.
I couldn’t make a decision. I couldn’t even see where I was at. I was begging for the pain to stop. Enduring two hours of this, I was at my limit. Alex and Stephanie were right there with me, but they were helpless. I just kept saying, “This is my worst nightmare,” over and over again. But I needed the pain to stop, so I chose the epidural. Something I don’t believe in, something I was certain wouldn’t even work, since pain medication and me don’t get along and medicine never worked as it was supposed to.
I was beyond dejected and sad and scared. I just knew something was wrong. They made Alex and Stephanie leave and called anesthesia. A cocky woman came in and hammered off a million details. I tried to block everything out – to think about the health of the baby… what would the effects from this be? I didn’t want drugs, but I didn’t know what else I could do.
When I received the epidural, I was in the worst pain of my life. They had to give me something before the epidural to try and take the edge off the contractions. I gripped the doctor’s shirt and held the nurse’s hand. Right when they stuck the needle in, I had the biggest contraction and thought I was going to pass out. They were asking me all types of questions about the epidural – if I felt it too much to the right or left. I could barely make sense of anything. Once it was in, I felt my legs go numb (one of the worst feelings) and the contractions eased, but not fully. I wasn’t even in relief – I was beyond upset and afraid something was really wrong with me or Sophie. Immediately, they had to hook me up to bags of fluid. I was flat on my back, and they inserted a catheter. After over a day of free movement, I was sedentary. I felt tears well up and I pushed them away.
The doctor let it fully take effect to see if I could relax and then checked me. I thought with two hours of that pain, I had to be ready to push, but I was still at 8.
And then the culprit: Sophie’s head, which should have been down, was coned and turned to the side. So, every time my uterus would contract, her head was slamming into my pelvic bone instead of going straight down. My body was getting the signal that she was ready to be born (for almost two days at this point!!!!!) and my uterus kept doing it’s job, working overtime to get her out, but her head and face were just at the wrong angle.
So he tried to maneuver her head (something I can’t even imagine him doing had I been in that much pain naturally) and thought he got it a little, but he said he’d give it some time to see if I could relax enough to let my pelvis widen and fully dilate. That’s what else he didn’t tell me – my pelvis is very small and he was convinced I wouldn’t be able to deliver vaginally.
I was in a state of disbelief. I was exhausted, still scared and wondering what was going to happen. I asked him honestly what he thought and he said he thought I was looking at a c-section. I asked him to talk me through it, as that’s the one aspect of childbirth I’d never planned on.
He told me what was involved and then bid me adieu for the doctor and nurse switch. Dr. Lin (the doc who once told me childbirth wasn’t natural) took over. Surprisingly, he was the perfect person for the job. He examined me and saw that I was at 9 cm. He said there was just a bit of cervical lip that wouldn’t go away, but he would give it some time. And he wasn’t certain about her head changing position.
But, he was optimistic that perhaps once I got to 10cm, things would work out. I had a new nurse who was very supportive, and we decided to wait it out. At this point, I just wanted to go to sleep, but after a few hours, things still hadn’t progressed, so Dr. Lin asked if they could start Pitocin. He really didn’t want to, but at that point, he thought it might speed things along. The moment they gave me the Pitocin, the epidural stopped working completely on the left side.
Suddenly, after a bit of relief, it was right back to that writhing pain. For an hour, I attempted to change positions, to breathe, to move, but my right leg was completely numb. The anesthesiologist kept giving me new doses of medicine, but nothing would work. .
After numerous hours, I had progressed to 9 ½ centimeters. And that’s where I stayed for the next FIVE hours. (I wonder why – I was flat on my back, hooked up to tubes and beyond stressed.) My body was beyond exhausted. I was in excruciating pain, I was hungry, and I just wanted to meet my baby. Stephanie and Alex were attempting to talk me through it, but I didn’t even care. I felt myself become despondent, and then, the floodgates opened, and I had an absolute breakdown.
At one point, the pain was so bad, I was on my hands and knees (barely able to feel my right leg but I could feel everything else) and I lost it. I cried like I’ve never cried in my entire life. (Stephanie is convinced this is the best thing that could have happened – that I just let go – that birth is all about letting go and I wouldn’t have been able to deliver her vaginally had I not had that mental break.) I told them I couldn’t do it, that I just needed to get her out of me, that I was so exhausted, that I physically couldn’t do it anymore. Stephanie was right there with me, as was Alex, and they both tried everything they could to soothe me. I could not stop crying. I couldn’t escape the pain and exhaustion and agony and fear that somehow, I just couldn’t get to my baby. She felt like a faraway concept… like I’d gone through all of this for nothing. Finally, I asked for my mother.
Dr. Lin had other deliveries to attend to, so they got a midwife on call to help me. She was a godsend. She had me on my side and did a vaginal exam. She kept her hands inside me for three contractions, trying to maneuver that cervical lip away. She was calm and composed and said, “I think Sophie’s head straightened out and she broke through that lip. There’s a bit left, but I think you could try and push.”
And then they explained the problem with pushing with my cervix still intact. I could try and push but if it made my cervix swollen at all, we’d have to stop and go to a c-section, because it could rupture my cervix. So, obviously, I wasn’t excited to try and push. I was so discouraged and figured this would be false hope. That, and I had no idea how I was going to get any energy to push.
They left me on my side and Stephanie pulled out every trick she knew to psyche me up. The nurse and her held my legs and Alex was right there with me, amazing and stoic, and they all encouraged me as I tried to push for about 30 minutes. The nurse told me I was pushing perfectly and finally, Dr. Lin came back in. It was 1:00a.m. at this point. I was dehydrated and could barely keep my eyes open, despite the constant barrage of coconut water, regular water and tea.
Dr. Lin checked me and said, “Let’s do this.” The cervical lip had disappeared, my cervix was fine, and he said all things were a go. Somehow, I still didn’t believe him. I was still in writhing agony and couldn’t imagine pushing like that. The anesthesiologist came in and I told her I didn’t want any more medicine because the last dose had made me nauseous and had given me the shakes, but she gave me one more dose anyway.
Just when I needed to feel the contractions, the epidural took effect and I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t tell where or how to push. I couldn’t even lift my legs. They positioned me flat on my back with my knees back (a position I swore I’d never be in because it works against gravity) and the doctor asked to see me push.
We waited for a contraction, which, of course, had slowed to every three minutes, and then I pushed three times during the contraction.
Dr. Lin said it was perfect, and I’d have her out in 15 minutes. Though that was far from the truth, it’s what I needed to hear. Apparently, my pelvis was small, and it took two hours to get her out. I have never been so exhausted in all my life. I was not even excited. I felt myself drifting to sleep between pushes. I physically had nothing left.
But I could feel the doctor’s encouragement. Stephanie, who had also been up for 52 hours, pulled every trick in the book to psyche me up. Alex was right by my side, encouraging me with every breath. My mother stood in the corner, a silent beacon of hope. They moved a mirror in front of me, dimmed the lights, and I started to focus on the end result – a baby in my arms. I took deep breaths and pushed as hard as I could for ten counts at a time, afraid my head might rupture, afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it, afraid of her getting stuck, afraid that all of this was a strange nightmare.
Her head kept coming down and I was so close every time to getting her to crown. The doctor was stunned at how strong I pushed considering everything I’d been through. He knew just what to say and he was brilliant at massaging me so I didn’t tear. And everyone’s spirits were so high during the pushing – the doctor was encouraging and was making jokes about me having the next one in two hours. I looked at Alex and said, “Absolutely not. Snip. Snip.”
Finally, the dose of the epidural wore off and I could feel everything (just in time for her to crown and come out). Her head took some time, but I got to reach down and feel the soft, dark hair on her head. To see her emerging was amazing. Once her head was out, he really had to maneuver the rest of her. It took five more pushes to get her out.
I thought when she was born, I would cry. That it would be like all of those moments I’d seen on television. But, instead, I looked at this person who’d grown inside me and felt… I’m not sure what. Relief. Pain. Exhaustion. Something like love.
And now, over a week later, as my body heals and this little girl sleeps beside me, it is hard to remember a time that came before her.
I have a newfound love for my family, and a respect for women that can never be measured or quantified.
But I did it. I weathered the storm, rode the waves, and came out on the other side.
And I have a daughter. Her name is Sophie Leona Holguin.
And she is mine.