(i have a sleeping baby in my arms, so i'm taking the shortcut and posting my already-written birth story as my intro...)
At 9am on December 20, 2003, we arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital for the administering of Cytotec to my cervix to induce labor. Though it was five days early, because of persistent prodromal labor (early labor that drags on with little to no effect on the cervix) my midwife, Janet Grant, and I decided inducing early would be beneficial-- at least to my sanity.
After about a half hour non-stress test, Janet arrived to apply the Cytotec. My cervix, which, like a steel door, had been refusing to change, actually had-- I’d finally arrived at about 2.5 cm. After receiving the Cytotec, we were sent home for 4 hours; we were to return around 2 to be checked and, hopefully, admitted.
I started having contractions about two hours later. They weren’t too hard but got progressively stronger as the day went on. I could still talk through them but was getting more and more uncomfortable.
There were no birthing rooms when we arrived at 2, so I was placed in the admission exam room to have another non-stress test and have my cervix checked. The baby’s heartrate was a little non-reactive, so I laid on my side for awhile to try to wake her up. When the nurse checked my cervix, she found no change. I almost started crying. She called Janet, who decided to have another dose of Cytotec administered and have me walk a bit to get things going. We were moved to a birthing room that had just opened up so I wouldn’t be out of luck when I did get admitted.
My parents came to visit and keep us entertained. I walked lap after lap around the hospital. I hate those hallways. Around 6, Andy and I went down to the cafeteria with my parents for some dinner. Our nurse, Tonya, asked us to be back around 7:30. We got back at 7 and she said she’d be in in 15 minutes to check me.
My cervix had made it to 3 cm. I’d only dilated half a centimeter in four hours. I was absolutely crushed. I couldn’t handle the idea of being sent home again, since we’d had so many false alarms. The EFM was showing contraction after contraction and they were beginning to get painful. I couldn’t believe they weren’t dilating my cervix. Tonya kept having me roll on my side to wake up the baby, whose heartrate was still non-reactive. She’d seen us during one of our false alarms and had had to use the buzzer to wake up the baby to get her reactive and asked us if that had to be done every time we had a non-stress test. We told her no, but that the nurse earlier in the day had had me on my side. She said she’d give Janet a call to see where to go next.
I was ready to cry again. I was so tired of being in labor with nothing happening. The contractions were painful and coming one on top of the other, with almost no break in between-- in fact, some of them were barely receding before the next one began. At one point, lying on my side, the heartrate monitor lost the baby’s heartrate for a moment then picked up again, showing 90, then 80. I tapped at the unit and tried adjusting it (we’d gotten to be rather expert at the EFM), thinking it had picked up my heartrate. Tonya came in the room shortly thereafter to look at the machine. Andy mentioned we’d lost the baby’s heartbeat for a moment but Tonya said that those low numbers WERE her heartbeat. Needless to say, that scared the ever-living shit out of both of us. We knew that heartrate was far too low. Janet was due to arrive in a bit to take a look at the strip and decide where we would go from there. Tonya went back out to the nurses’ station and, a few minutes later, a man we’d never seen came into the room to look at the EFM strip. He introduced himself as Dr. Ellinwood and said he’d looked over our strip at the nurses’ station and was concerned with the baby’s heartbeat. He ran his finger along the top of the strip, pointing out the dips her heartrate was taking after contractions, telling us that, after those dips, her heartrate should bounce back above where it was before. Instead, her heartrate was dipping and “flat-lining,” returning to where it was before. He said she had “non-reassuring hearttones” and recommended a cesarean.
My heart stopped and I started to cry. I tried to choke back the tears, but I couldn’t do it. My throat filled with the salt water and I couldn’t breathe. Andy had turned white. Dr. Ellinwood said he’d talked to Janet in the hall and they’d agreed on the c-section. The baby wasn’t withstanding the contractions well. Every time I had a contraction, oxygen didn’t flow to her, as normal. However, my contractions were coming so fast, she didn’t have time to recover, as she would normally. Had I been 7 or 8 cm dilated, there wouldn’t have been as much concern but, since I was barely 3, they were getting to be too much for her. Dr. Ellinwood told us, based on my progress so far, my labor could continue for another day or two, but she would only be able to withstand it for another hour or two. There was really no questions to be asked: have a c-section or our baby could die.
Everything started moving very fast. Dr. Ellinwood had the nurses give me a oxygen mask. Tonya brought in another nurse to hook me up to an IV so get me hydrated. Janet came in to reiterate what the doctor had told us. She would be assisting him in the surgery and it would only take them about 7 minutes to deliver the baby, then about another half an hour or so to repair me. I would be given a spinal block, not an epidural. Tonya brought over materials to shave my belly and pubic area. I was getting cold from the IV saline and was still nearly hyperventilating under the oxygen; my glasses didn’t fit over the bridge, so I could only see some things in focus. My parents were notified, as per my birth plan, by Janet that I would be having a c-section and they came in to get their coats and hug me before they went to the waiting room. Andy was given scrubs and told to change into them; he would wait in the cesarean recovery room until I’d been given the spinal, then he could join me at the head of the table. He was encouraged to bring his camera. While he changed, I was given a catheter to empty my bladder and had to drink something horribly bitter to nullify the acidity of my stomach contents.
I was wheeled down the hall to the operating room. There were a bunch of people in the room and I only recognized Tonya, Dr. Ellinwood and Janet, who were already in scrubs. I was introduced to the anesthesiologist, Dr. Heckle, who explained the entire process of a spinal to me. I would be given Duromorph, which would numb me from the breastbone on down. I’d be given a shot to numb the area of injection first, then the Duramorph. Once the spinal was administered, I wouldn’t feel anything of the surgery except for a bit of tugging and pulling. I was rolled onto my side and Janet held me behind my neck and legs while Dr. Heckle draped my back and proceeded to give me the spinal. I was still shivering violently and told Janet I was afraid I’d screw him up with my shaking; she assured me my shivering wouldn’t phase him, that it was the huge shakes that some women had that would disturb him.
The spinal was done quickly and I was rolled back onto my back. Sterile drapes were placed over my body and across my chest to block my view of the procedure. Andy was allowed in and came to my side, kissing me on the forehead; my arms were both strapped down to prevent me from reflexively reaching down while the surgery was performed. Andy was told he could take photos of everything, but I protested any shots of the c-section itself. Dr. Heckle asked, were I giving birth vaginally, would I want photos of that. When I replied that I wouldn’t, he laughed and agreed that maybe I wouldn’t want any photos of this.
Dr. Ellinwood then told me he was going to check to see if the spinal had taken yet. I felt some prodding and told him what I felt; Dr. Heckle said he was actually pinching me with some metal implement, so what I felt was acceptable.
I laid there for awhile while Andy looked over the drape. Finally, I asked, “Um, when are you going to start?” Andy looked down at me in disbelief. “Don’t you smell that?” he asked. “They’re almost halfway through. Can’t you smell them cauterizing the layers?” I couldn’t believe I’d somehow not even noticed I was being cut into!
“We’re almost there,” Janet reported. Andy craned his neck and Dr. Heckle asked if he needed to sit down, afraid he was going to pass out. Andy grinned and refused the chair; he was fascinated.
They cut through my uterus and the baby’s amniotic sac broke with a gush, sending up a geyser that caused everyone to jump back, laughing. A moment later, Janet reached in and pulled out the baby’s head to suction out her mouth; immediately, she began wailing. Then Janet pulled out the rest of her body and proclaimed, “You’re going to need to tape some little girl ribbons to that head!” My response: “Does that mean she’s bald?” Janet started laughing and reported that there was plenty of hair on my baby’s head. Then she was held up over the drape so I could see her scrunched up, screaming face. Andy said in awe, “It’s a girl!”
Dr. Heckle looked at the clock. “I have 20:42.”
It was recorded: Katharine Wen Spoering was born December 20, 2003 at 8:42 pm.
A nurse and pediatrician took the baby to the warmer and Andy followed. He stood over her and said softly, “Hi, Katie.” Katie calmed quickly as she was checked and she turned pink right away, only her feet and hands remaining just a little purple. Andy snapped several pictures of her as she received a little oxygen and was cleaned up, wrapped in a pink blanket, topped with a little striped cap then handed to Andy, who brought her over to see me. Dr. Heckle freed my arms from the restraints and I put my arm out to cradle her back between Andy’s arms. With my other hand, I touched her face. “Hey,” I said, stroking her cheeks. “Look, she has baby zits!” Dr. Heckle took Andy’s camera and took a couple photos of us: our first photos as a family.
I kissed her on the cheek before Andy and the nurse took her away to the well-baby nursery to be examined. In the meantime, surgery continued as I was repaired, layer by layer. High from seeing my daughter, I joked and chatted with the doctors and nurses. I felt almost nothing, still fairly amazed at that fact. As the procedure wound down, I began feeling a little queasy and pale, so I stared at my sterile drape for awhile, marveling at the whole experience. When everything was done, I was wheeled into the cesarean recovery room and helped onto a bed, Tonya situating my legs because I couldn’t feel a thing. I was surprised to see my right leg: it looked disembodied and swollen, something that was never attached to me. I was covered in blankets and a warming unit was placed above me. My parents arrived and hugged me, told me Katie was the prettiest thing they’d ever seen. They told me her statistics: 7 pounds, 2.8 ounces, 19 3/4 inches long-- just two-tenths of an ounce and 3/4 of an inch smaller than her daddy at birth. My mother, who’d been hoping for curly hair, said Andy claimed Katie definitely had that.
A few minutes later, Andy arrived pushing Katie in a plastic bassinette. He picked her up and put her in my arms, this tiny bundle of pink face with huge gray eyes. I was attached to monitors and tubes, unable to move at all, but I felt the best I have in years. Tonya helped me get Katie latched on and she nursed blissfully immediately, her eyes barely open but staring up at me.
Finally, after years of loss and pain and fear and tenuous hope, I was holding my long-awaited baby, a tiny, healthy girl who looks just like her daddy.
since this happened only 11 days ago, i'm still coming to terms with it-- i was so keen on a natural birth and read everything possible, dreaming of helping pull my baby out and holding her against my skin for the first time. i don't regret the c/b because it very likely saved her life, but i feel let down because i didn't get the birth i envisioned.
we're not planning on another child for several years, but i'm already getting excited to try for a vbac!!