Sunday, June 11, 2006

You say potato

Long before Nolan was born, when I was first pregnant with him but before we knew he was Nolan or even a he, I had a dream. I was just at the end of the first trimester and we were starting to feel pretty safe that the pregnancy was going to continue (if there's going to be a miscarriage, it's usually in the first trimester.) So I think my subconscious was finally acknowledging that we were really going to have a baby and be parents; sort of letting myself start to think about the baby as a reality rather than a possibility.

So, the dream. I dreamed that I'd had the baby, and it wasn't a he or a she. It was a Spud. Spud was the baby's name and also what the baby was. Not a boy, not a girl, but a Spud. It didn't seem to be out of the ordinary in any way, it was just another kind of baby. It wasn't a potato or anything, either, it looked like a regular baby, but I knew that it was a Spud. (Let me just say here that I have a long history of rather fucked-up dreams; not fucked-up in a scary way, but more like in a "What the hell are you trying to tell me, subconscious?" kind of way. Other people dream of going to work naked or flying or what have you; I dream of playing soccer with Cyndi Lauper and then riding my bike up a hill and into some telephone wires. Yeah, thanks, subconscious. Let me just look that one up in my dream interpretation book. The only person I know who has more fucked-up dreams than me is Dru.)

Of course I told KB about the dream and we took to calling the baby Spud. It hasn't really continued since Nolan was born and became Nolan, but all during my pregnancy we referred to him as Spud, even once we knew it was a boy. Erica's mother Pat made us a gorgeous baby blanket patchwork quilt that has an embroidered potato dancing in the middle of it under the word "Spud." It's so nice I'm afraid to use it for fear that it will be ruined.

Anyway. Spud's due date according to our OB/GYN was June 5th, 2005, which also happened to be KB's and my first wedding anniversary (we starting "trying" right away after we got married.) I worked all the way up until the end of the school year - graduation at my college was May 14th and all the department heads had to stay for another week after that, so I worked until May 20th. At home the night before the graduation ceremony I fell down the bottom half (maybe six or seven stairs) of the stairway leading up to our second floor. Thankfully, KB was home and I didn't really hurt myself or Spud too badly; just a skinned knee and some bruising on my legs and ass (which you would think would have been well padded). That was the first time I remember thinking, "Okay, I'm ready for this baby to be OUT of me. I can't even friggin' walk anymore!" KB wrapped up a month of working nights on May 27th, and I was so grateful Spud didn't come during that month.

Friday, June 3rd, was the last time I saw my OB. She said all was well, cervix was zipped up tight, and Spud was definitely head-down in my uterus. Her guess was that he was around eight or nine pounds. She knew we wanted to have an entirely natural, un-induced vaginal birth, and she reassured me that it was still possible with that big a baby, although it was "not a slam dunk." I made another appointment for Friday the 10th, at which point we were scheduled to talk about inducing labor. I really, really, didn't want to do that. I sent telepathic vibes to Spud to come before then. (In my heart of hearts I thought he would be born ON the 10th, actually. My older brother, who is the first grandchild in my dad's family, was born on his dad's (our grandfather's) birthday, and I was secretly convinced that my son, the first grandchild, would be born on his grandfather's (my dad's) birthday, which is June 10th. I liked the symmetry of it.)

On Sunday, June 5th, my official due date, I woke up around 8 am (not to give you the impression that I slept much - at the end there I was getting up 3 or 4 times a night to pee*) and went to the bathroom, only to find a little bloody spot in my underwear. I remember my exact thought process, which was this: "Oh. Well. Okay, then." I told KB and together we decided that Something Was Definitely Happening.

*I love how people tell you, when you complain about getting up a zillion times a night to pee while pregnant, that that is Mother Nature's way of preparing you for the lack of sleep a baby brings. That's got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard - that's like saying you should prepare for a 40 day fast by not eating very much.

I called my mom down in New Jersey. She concurred about the Something. Since I hadn't had any contractions or anything, we didn't exactly know what the Something was, but it was definitely (probably, maybe) Something. We decided I'd just keep her posted.

That entire day, I had a grand total of two contractions. One at 2pm and one around 7:30 that evening. I wasn't even sure they were contractions. They were more like a heavy, uncomfortable, squeezy feeling. I sat on my exercise ball and chatted on IM and had panicky thoughts like, "This is my last day as myself! Pretty soon, I'm somebody else's mom! And then my life is OVER!"

Sunday night and all day Monday, absolutely nothing happened. KB went to work as usual on Monday (he was working in - wait for it - OB ultrasound!). I sat around at home, peed a lot, and took pictures of my giant, bloated feet. I began to think I was terribly, terribly wrong about the Something. Maybe it was Nothing At All. Maybe I had just placed my entire extended family on high alert for no particular reason whatsoever.

I think my mom called 17 times from work during that Monday. Each time I had to tell her that it seemed like nothing was happening, that maybe I was one of those panicky, misguided, late-stage pregnant women who always think they're going into labor when really they've just eaten too much penne arrabiata. She, however, was convinced that I was in early labor. She was going to leave work that night and drive up to Boston, a five hour drive in the best-case scenario, more like eight in the worst case. She was only able to take one week (five workdays, that is) off from work since she'd only just started there, and I was worried that if she drove up for what turned out to be a false alarm, she'd waste all her days off and not get to be here for the birth.

I shouldn't have worried. Mom got in around 1:30 am Monday night/Tuesday morning. I think I had about one contraction per hour after that. When I woke up Tuesday morning (the 7th), I knew it was happening. It was ON. The heavy, uncomfortable squeezy feeling was back with reinforcements, as if to say, "Oh, I'm sorry - you weren't sure you were having contractions? Here you go, how about THIS?!" We started writing them down (I still have the sheet of notepaper with all the contractions listed on it) at 8:20 am on Tuesday. KB went in to work again, since we figured he was working where he'd need to be if things progressed, and my mom could drive me in.

Each contraction was about 30 seconds long, and they were about 20 minutes apart or so. I bounced around on my exercise ball, which is supposed to help open up your pelvis and keep things moving along nicely. I took a shower since I didn't know when I'd have a chance again. I called the hospital at 10 am and told them that my contractions were regular, strong, and each about 30 seconds. They basically said, "That's nice. Call us back when they're 5 minutes apart for at least an hour, or when your water breaks."

So then it was like...doopty-doo. What do you wanna do? I don't know, what do you wanna do? So, like all red-blooded American consumers, we went shopping. My mom said she thought it would take my mind off of the contractions, and we needed to pick up a couple things anyway, so...yeah. I was in labor at K-Mart. We went to this big shopping center near here that has a K-Mart, a Best Buy, a Borders, et cetera. You know those places. We walked around K-Mart with me stopping every 10 minutes or so (they're getting closer together now!) to lean against the cart and wince. It was highly surreal and yet strangely reassuring to be in labor while purchasing Drano and lip gloss. It was like my brain was going, I'm shopping, it's just a normal outing, pay no mind to the intermittent discomfort that signals the biggest change of your life. I also picked up some sugar-free candies to throw in my hospital bag. Very exciting stuff.

By the end of the K-Mart sojurn, my contractions were about seven minutes apart. My mom's next idea was to get some lunch. She told me the story (which she'd told me before but I let it slide because hey, she was about to become a grandmother for the first time) of when she was in labor with me. She invited my grandmother and her cousin over for reuben sandwiches right after her water broke, because she knew after giving birth to my older brother that the hospital won't let you eat after you get there. So, let's see, we've started my baby's birthday with some blue light specials, what's the next typical white trash Americana thing we could introduce him to? How about...lunch at Chili's? Oh yeah!

There's a Chili's in another behemoth shopping center right near the first one, so off we went. As we were seated, around noon-thirty, I started to feel distinctly nervous. We were three miles from home and a half-hour drive from the hospital where I was supposed to give birth. The contractions were getting longer and stronger - still not painful or anything, but distinctly uncomfortable and definitely closer together. My sheet says 12:40, 12:48, 12:57, 1:01, 1:06, 1:11. I really didn't want my water to break in a friggin' Chili's. Mom said we could get the food to go if I wanted, but I figured I could stick it out for a little while. We ordered southwestern egg rolls and asian lettuce cups - two whitebread American takes on ethnic cuisines. (Actually, they tasted pretty good.) I mostly just remember feeling anxious to be home. I wanted to be somewhere safe and familiar, and a leatherette booth at a chain restaurant with Foreigner blaring on the sound system was not cutting it.

So we left Chili's around one-thirty. Mom saw an Office Depot on the other side of the shopping center and wanted to go in to look for some Red Vines. (I had been complaining about the dearth of Red Vines in local stores, and my mom, being my mom, wanted to give me something that I'd been jonesing for.) She remembered that they sometimes sell those big round plastic jugs of Red Vines at office supply stores, so she went in to check it out. I opted to stay in the car. There's one entry on the contractions sheet in my shaky handwriting: 1:36. She came back out and informed me they only had Twizzlers. No joy. (And don't even try to tell me Twizzlers are an acceptable substitute for Red Vines - that is just blasphemy.)

Then, homeward! Yay! Three more contractions - 1:44, 1:50, 1:55. We pulled into the driveway. I hefted my gigantic belly out of the car and waddled up the three stairs to the front door while Mom got the K-Mart bags from the car. As I put my key into the lock, I felt this huge, internal Splorch!-ing sensation and a gush of fluid filled my maxi-pad (thank god I remembered to put one on). I yelled, "My water just broke!" over my shoulder as I ran for the bathroom. When I sat down on the toilet, another huge gush of fluid came out. (I figure I lost any squeamish readers about 12 paragraphs ago, but if the gushing fluid is not for you, you may just want to stop right here.) I got up to flush and grab a clean maxi-pad and I glanced down into the toilet. There was a big blob of bloody mucus floating there - my cervical plug had come out! Gross! And yet, sort of cool and fascinating, the way a scab is fascinating when you pick it off.

I called the hospital and told them my water had broken and answered all their questions (time? amount? color? smell?) and they told us to come on in. Yay! It's happening! Then I called KB and told him we were on our way in. He said he'd meet us at the main entrance to the hospital. Then, let's see...I'm in labor, my water's broken, I've packed my bag, what else do I need? CDs, of course. My poor computer had died in March and I had been trying to figure out a way to make a mix CD to bring into the labor room with me, to help "set the mood" and take my mind off things. Being the procrastinator that I am, I hadn't made the CD yet, so I went down to the basement to pick out a few entire CDs to bring instead. As I'm standing there, staring at our hundreds of CDs and trying to pick the perfect song or songs to be hearing while my new baby son is coming into the world, I realize, "This is stupid. Your water has broken. You're going to have a baby. Go get in the friggin' car, you idiot."

We put a towel down on the passenger seat of my mom's car and put my hospital suitcase in the back. On the drive to the hosptial I called the coordinator for the research study we were enrolled in to tell her I was in labor. There were a few minutes of bad, backed-up traffic when I thought "Oh please no I don't want to have a baby in my mom's PT Cruiser" but it cleared up and then there was just the normal craptastic Boston traffic. I guided my mom through downtown Boston and to the hospital while having contractions and writing them down on our trusty sheet of paper (2:25, 2:31, 2:35, 2:42, 2:46, 2:51, 2:56, 3:01, Jesus Christ, are we there yet?).

We pulled into the turnaround at the front of the hospital and there was KB, in his white doctor coat and scrubs, waiting for me with a wheelchair. I've never been so happy to see him - I knew he would take care of me and not let anything bad happen. (Not that there's really much he could have done had things gone badly, but I just felt calmer the moment I saw him.)

He wheeled me through the lobby and up the elevators to the 14th floor where the maternity ward is. We'd taken the tour during our childbirth preparation class and all, but what I wasn't prepared for was how normally everyone else in the maternity ward and hospital at large was acting. I was at Defcon One, goddammit! I felt like yelling, "I'm having a baby! Everyone! Attention please! Imminent baby! Right here!" And everyone else is like, Ho hum. It's our job. Yes, yes, baby, birth, blah blah blah. No one wanted to share in my specialness, god damn them.

They have a kind of triage room where they check you out to make sure you actually ARE in labor before they admit you, and we were set up in there. The nurses hooked me up to two monitors, one for my contractions and the other for the baby's heartrate. They do an internal exam (That was fun. And by fun I mean awful.) to see how dilated you are and take a sample of the fluid to make sure it's amniotic fluid and not something mundane like pee. The way they do that is to put some of it on a slide, let it dry, and then see if it forms crystals in the shape of ferns. This is called, oddly enough, "ferning." When they took the sample KB asked if they were going to look for "planting," and the nurse said, "You mean ferning?" which made me crack up.

After the exam they said I was 3 cm dilated and 75% effaced, which didn't sound like much to me but I guess is enough to confirm that you're in labor, because they let us stay. This was about 3:30 in the afternoon. My mom, who had returned from parking the car in the garage by this point, said, "Oh, three centimeters honey, that's great!" but she pronounced centimeters as SONT-ih-meters, which made me do a double take. I was like, "Since when do you say it SONT-ih-meters? Have I ever heard you say that word before? I can't remember!" There's a picture she took of KB and I right around this time, and I look really quite happy and excited, which I guess I was. I was so happy that I was safely at the hospital with KB and my mom, and that things were finally happening. I wasn't really in pain yet, just uncomfortable, and I was excited that we were going to see the baby soon.

They gave us ID bracelets and took us into our labor and delivery room. We didn't get a Jacuzzi room, which bummed me out. They try to save the two Jacuzzi rooms for women who are going to try to go drug-free, but I guess they were both taken when we got there. But our room had a shower, which turned out to be my saving grace in the end. The anesthesiologist came by and I signed some legal schmegal form about not suing the shit out of him if he screwed up my epidural, but since I didn't plan on having an epidural anyway, I wasn't concerned about it. I kind of felt about him like I imagine junkies feel about their pushers - simultaneously repulsed and needy as all hell. I wanted him out of the room so he would quit tempting me with something I didn't really want. Or did I?

I'd heard all these horror stories of women who are in labor for 36 hours and crap like that, so I'd packed lots things to do in my little suitcase. I had massage lotion, playing cards, a "focus" picture, the candies to keep my mouth moist, all kinds of stuff. We didn't use any of it. I did one walking lap around the maternity floor holding on to KB and my mom, and then I just wanted to be back in the room, hunkered down. The Pain was beginning, and I was kind of starting to lose it. Each contraction was lasting longer and hurting more, and there was less of a break between them - sometimes only 30 seconds or a minute. They had an exercise ball for me to use, and I tried out various positions to see which hurt the least. I got really tired really fast, and I just wanted to lie down, so I did. The contraction I had while lying on my side was the most painful one yet, so I stood back up.

At this point, my brain kind of took a little vacation. As Carol Burnett famously said, "If you want to know what it feels like to have a baby, take your bottom lip and pull it over your head." There's a certain amount of pain you can handle rationally, and then your mind just kind of goes, "See-ya, wouldn't want to be ya!" You know that Simpsons episode where Homer goes to the Bigger Brothers to get a little brother to show Bart up for getting a Bigger Brother? And when the volunteer dude asks Homer his motivation for wanting a little brother, Homer's brain says, "Don't say revenge! Don't say revenge!" and when Homer says, "Revenge!" his brain says, "That's it!" and you hear some footsteps and a door slamming? That's kind of what happens.

(The actual physical feeling is a lot like stretching, but to an extreme that you wouldn't think your body would be able to survive. The whole point of all the contractions is to open up your cervix enough to give the baby enough room to get out, and the amount of stretching it has to do to accomplish that is alarming. Imagine your left nostril stretching out, through a series of muscular contractions spread out over, say, 12 hours, to become large enough to accomodate...oh, say...a good-sized Florida grapefruit. That's about right. You wouldn't think your nostril could get that big, would you? The other thing is, now that I've been through labor, I can pinpoint exactly where my cervix is in my body. If someone says to you, "Think about your right elbow," you can locate your right elbow and sort of feel it with your mind - you don't have to touch it with your other hand to know it's there. It's almost like you can tune into your elbow by thinking about it. Well, now I can do that with my cervix. What a great party trick, huh?)

I know a couple hours passed, because at the next internal exam I had, I was 6 cm dilated and 100% effaced, and that was at 6:05 pm. I'm reading that information off of the notepaper where my mom wrote it - I have absolutely no memory of that second internal exam.

What I do remember is wanting to go into the bathroom, get into the shower and have the warm water on my belly. I took my gown off (all social anxiety about being buck naked in front of strangers was of absolutely no consequence to me at that point - I could have been on stage at Carnegie Hall and it wouldn't have mattered) and brought the exercise ball into the shower with me to sit on. The nurses were afraid the ball would slip on the wet tile floor, so they put a sheet down on the floor of the shower. After about 30 seconds of shower time (Oh, warm, blissful water! Oh, soothing, soothing, spray!) they realized that the sheet was clogging up the drain and the shower was overflowing and they wanted me to get out. I can't even begin to tell you how angry this made me. I remember thinking, "This situation has never come up before in all your combined years of working as maternity nurses, you fucking hags? There isn't some standard procedure for taking the ball into the shower? What the fuck is wrong with you people?"

In the end, KB saved the day. He had packed his swimsuit in my hospital bag in case we got a Jacuzzi room, and he put it on and got into the shower with me. That way I could sit on the ball and hold onto him and I wouldn't slip. I had my arms around his waist and my face buried in his stomach, and he directed the warm shower spray handle thingee onto me. At this point I remember thinking, "If I could just have five minutes without a contraction, that would be great. I just need a little break to catch my breath and then I can get right back to it." Of course, that didn't happen. The contractions were now about 90 seconds long each and there was maybe 10 seconds in between them. It was horrible. I remember just saying, "It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts" over and over and yelling a lot. Poor Kevin must have been freezing - I was getting all the hot water and I think we were in there for about and hour and a half.

At some point, I began bearing down at the height of each contraction. It just started happening on its own - my body knew to do it - it wasn't like I had the conscious thought, "Okay, I'm going to start pushing now, here I go." I guess I was grunting or something because someone out in the room said, "It sounds like she's pushing!" and the nurses came into the bathroom to check on me. I started saying, "He's coming! He's coming!" The nurses' shift was supposed to change at 7 and the old nurse was trying to introduce me to the new nurse while I was sitting on the ball in the shower with KB. I paid no attention.

They made me get out of the shower and back in bed so they could get a doctor to check on me. I guess I put my gown back on, because I've seen the pictures and I have a gown on in the pictures, but I don't remember doing it. When the doctor came in, I remember thinking how pretty she was. She had long straight black hair and pale skin, very fine-boned and pretty. I couldn't get over how beautiful my doctor was (she wasn't my regular OB). She checked me out and pronounced me fully dilated and ready to push.

There was a nurse on my right side, and KB and my mom were on the left. The nurse showed me how she wanted me to hold my legs back - with my hands behind my knees pulling back. The doctor told me to take a deep breath at the start of the next contraction, and then push while counting to ten, then release the breath. You do that three times during each contraction, and then you're supposed to "rest" in between contractions. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Rest! I let my legs down while resting, and I guess when I pulled them back up for the next push, I had my hands in FRONT of my knees, by my shins, instead of behind my knees like the nurse had showed me. She tried to move my hands and I remember thinking, "What the fuck does it matter where my hands are? Just leave me alone!" I'm pretty sure I didn't actually say that out loud, though.

So I pushed for a while, probably about 20 minutes, and it became apparent that the doctor was concerned about the baby's heart rate. (They'd hooked me back up to the monitors when I got back in bed, I guess, I don't remember) His heart rate wasn't recovering between contractions - it just kept dropping and dropping with each one. All of a sudden there were like, 15 people in the room with me, where before there had just been five. They had all these nurses and pediatricians standing by in case something went wrong. That totally freaked me out.

The doctor said I needed to get the baby out in the next two contractions or she was getting the vacuum extractor. I remember thinking, "No way. Nope. No vacuum. Not gonna happen." and I just powered through it. The next contraction came and I pushed like hell. I remember feeling myself pushing into my face and knowing, realizing somehow that that was the wrong kind of push and just redirecting the push down through my body. I could feel the baby moving down there, which was really weird. I thought the baby was sort of passive and just got pushed out, but I could feel him turning sideways toward the end and kind of wriggling, and I was amazed there was enough room for him to do that. His head came out and then I pushed once more and he popped the rest of the way out all at once. That was at 8:03 pm. The doctor held him up to the waiting nurse and I saw him in profile, and he looked just like his ultrasound picture. It sounds weird, but that was somehow reassuring to me, like, "Yep - that's the right baby."

Turns out the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck - that's why his heart rate kept dropping. Apparently that's a pretty common complication, but they have to treat it as life-threateningly serious for the baby, because it is. He was fine, though - he scored 9 out of a possible 10 on his Apgar test. I remember a huge feeling of relief after he was out - I just thought "Oh thank god it's over I can finally rest." But of course I still had to deliver the placenta and get stitched up. It took a long time to sew me up, longer than I was pushing for, and I was so fucking irritated with the doctor. She wasn't used to sewing up a woman who hadn't had an epidural, and she kept having to give me Novocain to numb me up. I kept saying things like, "Aren't you done yet?" I just wanted to rest and be with my new family, and there was my pretty doctor, still sewing between my goddamn legs. KB said I should be patient, that this wasn't something you wanted to rush, and I guess he was right.

At some point while I was being stitched up they brought the baby over to me, all cleaned up and swaddled in a blanket with a knit cap on. He was wide awake and so alert and wrinkly! He looked like a wise little old man. Mom asked us if we had picked a name yet, and I looked at KB. We had narrowed it down to Nolan or Ellis, and KB told me to pick, so I picked Nolan. He just seemed more like a Nolan. Then I told KB to pick the middle name and he picked Baxter, and that was that.

When the doctor was finally done sewing me up, one of the nurses took me into the bathroom to show me my "wound care regimen." You get a little squeeze bottle that you fill up with warm water and a little antibacterial soap. After you pee, you spray that all over yourself and then PAT dry with toilet paper. No wiping or rubbing. Then you get one of these maxi-pad shaped ice packs and cover it with witch hazel pads (like Tucks, basically) and you spray your whole "area" with a topcial antibiotic spray. Then you put your ice pack/witch hazel pad construction into these lovely mesh granny panties (size extra-large) and put the whole thing on. So comfortable. Actually, the ice pack felt good, but the sensation of it melting and running down and puddling in the bed was not so nice.

After that all the medical staff left us alone, and we realized we were starving. I think this was around 10:30 or 11. We ordered a pizza and a caesar salad from a place the nurses recommended, and we ate it in the delivery room while we called half of the western world on our cell phones to tell them about Nolan. They moved us to a recovery room one floor down. We got a private room, thank goodness. KB got a cot to sleep on in the room, and Nolan was in his little plastic bucket on top of a rolling cart with all his supplies in it. KB walked my mom to the parking garage so she could drive home and get some sleep. While he was gone I noticed it was almost midnight, so I sang "Happy Birthday" to Nolan before it was too late.

Then I crawled into my hospital bed and tried to sleep. The nurses kept coming by to give me big 600mg horse pills of Motrin (what?!?! Friggin' Motrin!??! Doesn't drug-free childbirth at least rate some codeine?) and prod my belly to see if my uterus was shrinking down appropriately. I kept having to go to the bathroom to pass big blood clots. They put a plastic dish in your toilet to collect everything you pass in the first 24 hours to see if you're losing too much blood. If ever I needed proof that I was not cut out for the medical field, that's it right there - your job is collecting someone else's blood clots? Tempting, One of the nurses saw my chart and whistled and said, "NCB, all the way, baby!" I looked quizzically at KB and he said, "Natural Child Birth." and I was like, "Oh yeah!" and felt absurdly proud.

And that's how we had a son. Lots more happened in the two days we were in the hospital, but I think I've written enough. We came home from the hospital on June 10th, and nothing in our lives has been quite the same since, in both good ways and bad. I meant to get this up on Nolan's first birthday, but the more I wrote, the more I remembered, and it took me longer than I thought. Longest! Post! Ever!

I love you, Nolan. It was all worth it.

Thanks for reading.


Erica Mulherin said...

Yay! NCB all the way! Sounds like a sporting conference. Caroline Hoover, winner of the NCB Eastern Conference final. Will she back to defend her title?

thptpth said...

Not for at least two or three more years, she won't...

Electric Mayhem said...

YAY NOLAN, and yay Joy for NCB.

Twizzlers are a poor man's Red Vines.

This was so touching and totally worth the time it took to write it.

zachdb said...

Awww! Thanks for sharing the whole story! And I love the fact you were in labor and went to K-mart. You can take the girl out of the park... ;)
Seriously, that's awesome.