Our beautiful daughter Samara Rivka was born on Wednesday, August 3 at 5:35pm. It was a very scary experience, and pretty much nothing went the way we had hoped or planned, but there was no getting around it. Our ultrasound that morning -- scheduled because I was four days past my due date, and was sure about the date of conception -- showed that the baby had stopped growing around 33.5 weeks (and we were at 40.5 weeks) and measured about 4lbs12oz, and there was very little blood flow going through the placenta. We were terrified. We had no idea how to take this news, and when the doctor asked me how I was doing, I said, "Well, a little freaked out." He said, "You know, you have us a little freaked out, too."
The non-stress test he requested told us that the baby might be able to handle labor, so they rushed us to L&D. We weren't even in the hospital we intended to birth in, but that hospital had not had an opening for ultrasounds that day. Thank goodness for that...the infant intensive care unit at that hospital isn't as good as the one where we ended up.
They began a pitocin drip around 11:30am. The one positive thing I can say is that I am very proud of how I handled these horrible and sudden contractions...exactly as I had practiced, calmly, breathing through them, relaxing into them, whispering "down, baby, down" when they got hard. It was kind of amazing, actually. However, the baby was not tolerating the contractions at all. They were about every 3 minutes, and by 3pm, my midwife, Jenny, had called in her consulting OB. The OB was worried about the baby's regular and worsening heart decelerations. I was on the phone with my doula on and off, and just as I hung up and told her we could wait a bit longer for her to come (she had a 16 hour minimum), the OB and midwife said that the baby was doing worse, and insisted I get into bed -- exactly where I didn't want to be. Still, I managed to hold it together until my midwife insisted on breaking my water. She wanted the baby to come as quickly as possible, and thought that might help. By then I was about 4 cm dilated. With her hands inside me during the exam, she asked if she could break my water. I was in no position to discuss it intelligently...in intense pain and desperately worried about the baby, I agreed. She broke my water, and on the next contraction, with her hands still inside me, asked if she could put in an internal fetal monitor. Again, I was totally unprepared to make the decision, and though I tried to say "Wait, why are we doing this?," she said that if she stopped the exam and took her hand out so that we could talk about it, we would just have to start over again if I said yes later. So, my husband (David) and I agreed to the monitor, with me sobbing with the combined pain of the contraction and the vaginal exam.
Now, I had a monitor coming out of me, a broken bag of waters, and orders not to get out of bed except to go to the bathroom. I did manage to get to the bathroom once after that process, and found the contraction so much more tolerable sitting on the toilet than lying in bed. While I was in the bathroom, David asked Jenny if we could try another position when I came out. The answer was no. I came back out, crawled back into bed, and continued to labor through intense, pitocin-stimulated contractions. They were much more painful with my bag broken. Jenny sat at the foot of the bed and stroked my leg during them, and David sat behind me, touching me between contractions and holding my hand. We called our doula, Sharon, and told her to come. I kept my "down, baby, down" mantra going during contractions, but also began to moan loudly. Jenny, the doctor, and the l&d nurse were staring at the monitor. By about 4:45, the doctor insisted that I be checked again, and if I wasn't at least 8cm, we would have to have a c-section. The exam was horribly painful again, and I had only progressed half a centimeter -- not a surprise, lying in bed like that.
The next few contractions were worse than anything I remember from either Samara's or my older daughter's birth, because I knew they served no purpose. I gave up my calm and began to scream during them, begging Jenny to make them stop. I signed the forms, drank the horrible antacid they gave me, and they wheeled me away to prep me for the surgery. Thank goodness Jenny convinced the surgical team to let her stay with me the whole time -- she helped me get through the insertion of the spinal needle, and the waiting until David could join us. We brought my MP3 player and speakers into the operating room, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang "I'll Take You There" as we waited. I remember David coming in, and I asked him to tell me a story about his father (who had passed away before we met) to distract me from the bustling of all the residents and the doctors.
I felt the anesthesia creep up my body -- it was a very uncomfortable feeling. I thought my right leg was bent and asked if they would straighten it for me, but they said it already was straight -- my body just remembered the last position it had been in. That was strange, but even worse was the sensation that I was having an asthma attack. I thought I could not get enough air, but as it turns out, the anesthesia numbs the bottom of your lungs, so you can't feel them expanding. Again, I was so grateful that Jenny stayed with me -- she explained all of that.
I was worried that I would somehow feel the cutting, but at one point, Jenny said that if I was going to feel the surgery, I definitely would have felt it by then. I hadn't even realized that they had begun. I felt nothing. I asked Jenny (who was the only one on our side of the screen who could see the surgery as it occurred) to tell us when the baby's head would be out enough for him/her to hear, because I wanted the first sound my child heard to be me and David singing. At 5:35pm, Jenny said, "Ok, now," I began to sing, through my tears, "You are my sunshine." David joined in, and Jenny said, "It's a girl!" I kept singing, but I know my voice broke when I heard that.
The baby was pink, but had to be suctioned quite a lot. I could barely see her -- I could turn my head and see the warming table, and I could see that there was a baby there, but I couldn't see anything about her -- hair, hands, etc. She was a pink blur. David went to be near her, and hold her once they were done. He walked around the room, singing to her. I asked him if I could name her, and he said yes. Welcome to the world, Samara Rivka!
Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" was playing through my MP3 player, and I was crying. The anesthesiologist mentioned to the nearest resident that he was going to put "a little something" in my IV. I asked him to stop and tell me what he was doing. He said, "I'm just going to give you something to calm you down." I asked if it would make me dopey, and he said, "yes, but you won't care." I said, "Please don't give me anything that will make me dopey. I want to hold and nurse the baby as soon as they sew me up." He said, "You won't care about all that, trust me." I said "Don't do it. I am not giving you permission to do that." He said, "Fine, whatever you want," and spent the rest of the time in the operating room complaining to the residents that "She won't take any narcotics."
David brought Samara to me to kiss, and I did, but I felt like it took forever for them to finish the surgery. I got very nauseous and vomitted all over poor Jenny (and myself). When they finally wheeled me into recovery, I was freezing, and they covered me in some inflatable warming blanket. Our doula, Sharon, was waiting for us there. She was wonderful -- so sorry she hadn't made it there earlier, just perfect and nurturing and a wonderful comfort. She helped push to get Samara brought into the room, and then helped me nurse her for a blissful 10 minutes. She took a picture for us, and then when they tested Samara's blood sugar and found it dangerously low, she stayed with me for five hours while David stayed with Samara. Back in my room, in a daze of Dilaudid (which I consented to after I had nursed Samara), Sharon sat and knitted and chatted with me while I waited to find out how my baby was.
David came back to our room around 10:30pm. Samara had been admitted to the special care nursery with blood sugar that would not regulate. They had already given her some formula. I said I wanted to see her right away -- could they bring her to me to nurse? No -- she could not leave the nursery. My doula suggested that I could go to her in a wheelchair, so we asked the nurse to bring me one. Everyone was very surprised that I was interested in getting out of bed so soon, but I needed to be with Samara -- my baby had only felt my touch for 10 minutes of her life so far. I wanted to nurse her again. They brought me a wheelchair and took me to the nursery. She was under a warming light, with an IV and a ton of monitors. It broke my heart. They took her out of her little plastic bed and put her in my arms, and I tried to nurse her again, but she was too tired. I just held her for over an hour, and then David took me back up to my room to sleep, stopping at the nursing station to ask that they bring me a pump in the morning.
Samara stayed in the nursery for 8 days, until she could finally keep her blood glucose up without the help of an IV glucose drip. I went home after 5 days. I nursed her and pumped enough by the time that she was 3 days old that she didn't need any more formula. All of her feeds were my milk -- some by bottle, some by NG tube, and some right at the breast. I had to fight to get them to let her nurse first if I was there, but it was worth it in the end -- she is a nursing champ, and so far hasn't had any nipple confusion.
She came home August 10, all 4 lbs 11 oz of her, and we began to fall in love. The traumatic birth, instant separation, and rocky start all contributed to my difficulty connecting with her for some time. People don't talk about that enough -- that you can love a baby and want to protect her and care for her, but feel as though she is somehow not yours. It's so frightening, and it took a good month and a half before I felt truly connected to her. Now, she is almost three months old, and I think she's amazing -- already almost doubled her birth weight, smiling and cooing, cuddling (but not yet sleeping at night much!). I am definitely connected to her now, but it was a really rough start. I don't think that c-sections have to be bad, but there must be something that hospitals can do to help the parents of babies in special care nurseries. To be separated by my new baby by two floors and four hallways, just hours after her birth -- that's not right. I'll be struggling with that for a long time.
We'll be having a baby-naming ceremony at our synagogue to welcome her into our community and family in a more official way. I hope that will help us heal from the difficult hospital experience. I know that she is a strong and very special child -- I can see it in her eyes -- and feel my love for her grow in intensity and complexity every day.