People say that no two births are the same. And in my case, it’s been very true. Thirteen years ago, my first baby was monitored throughout pregnancy for measuring small. At 37 weeks, after 28 hours of labor, 3.5 hours of pushing and an episiotomy, my tiny little chiclet was born. When we brought her home, she weighed less than 5 pounds. On the other side of the spectrum, my recent second baby was monitored via ultrasound throughout my pregnancy for measuring large. At 39 weeks and 5 days, we decided to induce to get him out before he added too much bulk. The hope was to avoid a C-Section.
I was definitely nervous about his size, but my stomach was measuring right on target, even on the small side. So I was really counting on the ultrasound measurements being wrong. The doctor told me they could be off up to a pound either way. I was also trying to trust my body. This may sound naive, but I checked into the hospital on induction day with the belief that my body wouldn’t make a baby that I couldn’t push out. I had already achieved one vaginal birth and was expecting this one to be difficult, but ultimately successful.
After I was admitted at 8 am, the nurses checked my cervix, and I was already dilated to 4 cm and 80% effaced. A great starting point. I had been having contractions daily for weeks, so it didn’t take long for the pitocin to get me to a regular rhythm. As we prepared to do the epidural, I reiterated again to my nurses and the anesthesiologist that my body has not reacted well to it in the past. I told them that 13 years ago, after 24 hours of laboring with my daughter, I had opted for an epidural and my blood pressure promptly bottomed out. The current medical team bolstered my body with extra fluid to help prevent the same thing from happening again, but no luck. As soon as they placed the epidural, my blood pressure plummeted. It took 50 ccs of epinephrine to get my heart stabilized. The epidural was kept to a very low dosage, so I still had a full range of movement.
By 2:30 my cervix was dilated to 7 cm but the baby was still too high, at -2 station and we needed him to move down to 0 station to engage in the birth canal. The nurses brought in an inflatable peanut-shaped ball and instructed me to lay on my side with the peanut ball between my knees. The goal was to open my hips and make room in my pelvis for the baby to move down. The nurses said they would come to check on me every half an hour and hopefully in an hour and a half or two we would be ready to push.
As soon as the nurses left the room, I felt immense pressure and called them right back in. They checked and within two minutes he had dropped down into the birth canal and I was fully dilated and ready to push. We were all surprised. I laughed, thinking it was a good thing I hadn’t spread my legs earlier if that’s all it took! The nurses called the doctor and started moving all of the delivery equipment into the room to begin pushing.
At this point, I noticed the nurses watching the heart rate monitor closely. But they didn’t seem too concerned. When Dr. Linn arrived, she had me put on an oxygen mask to see if we could help babies heart rate move back up to the baseline. It had been steadily declining since he engaged in my birth canal. Dr. Linn directed me to move into various positions to try and relieve some of the pressure on the baby. It was when I was on my hands and knees with my head down and bottom half in the air, oxygen mask pumping and everyone’s eyes glued to the monitor that the tears started coming. I could tell something was seriously wrong.
After a few more minutes with no positive change, my no-nonsense doctor looked me straight in the eyes and said, “We are going to have to get your baby out now, and I don’t have time to talk you through everything that is going to happen. You are just going to have to trust me, ok?” I felt like a helpless child… my chin quivering and tears leaking steadily as I tried to take calming deep breaths of oxygen and silently searched for faith and strength in the eyes of my family.
Within seconds, I felt like I was in an episode of ER. A flurry of fast-moving nurses surrounded me, moving like a well-oiled machine as they prepared me to move to the operating room. I breathed deeply into the oxygen mask as my parents and Sylvie came to my bedside and prayed with me. Jason was given a surgical suit and told to wait until they came back to get him as I was wheeled out of the room and down the hall. It all happened so fast.
I’d like to say I didn’t have time to be scared, but that’s not true. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I was scared for my baby. I could hear Dr. Linn calling for NICU to come immediately to the operating room for resuscitation, if necessary. My mama heart was pounding with fear, imagining my boy arriving gray and lifeless. I couldn’t feel him moving inside me. I was also irrationally scared of the surgery itself, of how my body would react to more anesthesia. I was afraid the epidural wouldn’t work fast enough, and I wouldn’t be numb in time. I also hated the idea of a scar and all the painful healing that comes with it. This was what I had been trying to avoid all along and now it was happening and I wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared at all.
The OR was an experience I’ll never forget. The lights were so bright overhead, and my completely naked body felt so vulnerable as I was laid out on the table. I stared straight up into those lights and prayed for us both, trying not to spend mental energy on what the doctor meant when she ordered the nurses to “splash and dash.” By the time Jason came bursting through those doors, I was already cut open. He walked into blood and iodine on the floor and my organs in full view, and he didn’t flinch. He held my hand hard and stared into my eyes with all the love and strength he could give me. As much as I needed that, I also wanted one of us to watch the birth. “Don’t miss it,” I whispered. He turned his face beyond the curtain and I kept my eyes glued on him. I may not have seen Kit’s entrance into the world, but I got to see Jason’s entry into fatherhood. His awe and excitement were immediately healing to my heart.
If you saw me before I went into labor, you would not have expected me to have a large baby. My stomach was compact and even measuring a tad small, even though the baby measured large. That kid was so jam-packed into every corner of my abdomen, my last few weeks of pregnancy were miserable. Needless to say, Dr. Linn used all her strength as she braced her elbow on the table for leverage and pulled out our 9 lbs. 3 oz. , 22 inches screaming mad and perfectly healthy baby boy. At 3:20 pm, I heard that glorious cry and Jason’s subsequent exclamation, “This is awesome!” and I laughed with true joy and relief… All the nurses kept asking where I was hiding that much baby. I could only smile and laugh and cry in response.
My friend and photographer, Katie, wasn’t allowed into the operating room due to the urgent nature of the surgery. But as soon as Dr. Linn delivered Kit, she ran back and grabbed Katie’s camera and snapped a few photos in the minutes after his birth. Birth photography is not in her job description, but this woman went above and beyond for us. I am forever thankful for her thoughtfulness.
As I watched the NICU nurses check out Kit, I felt my consciousness slipping. Then came another 50 ccs of epinephrine for my heart and a dose of methergine to control the postpartum hemorrhaging I didn’t know was happening. The shock to my system combined with blood loss and meds caused my body temperature to drop to hypothermic levels. I was allowed to hold and nurse Kit while cocooned in a “bear hugger” blanket, which equates to an inflatable sleeping bag with warm air being blown continuously through it. It took an hour in the bear hugger to raise my body temp back to safe levels and our family was finally allowed to come meet our newest member.
The next few hours with our family were so precious. With each introduction, there was a moment of tears and awe at the perfect little child in my arms. I was riding high on emotions and pain medicine for those first 24 hours. When the pain medicine wore off the next day, I realized just how difficult the next few weeks of recovery would be. I couldn’t do anything by myself. I couldn’t sit, stand, walk, go to the bathroom, clean myself or pick up my baby alone. Jason never left my side. That man was a rock, constantly bringing me water, walking me to the bathroom in the middle of the night and wiping the blood from my body, helping me on and off the toilet, in and out of bed, changing my clothes, advocating for stronger pain medicine and perfecting his diaper-changing skills. Those first nights in the hospital, I had a glimpse of what we meant when we vowed, “In sickness and in health,” and I loved him more than I ever have.
A few days later, we all came home and began finding our new normal as a family of four. Kit Charles Riley is 4 months old today, and I am just now finishing his birth story. Truthfully, it took me this long to process and document it because this wasn’t the story I thought I’d be telling. But it is ours; beautiful in its realness and the strength we found in each other. And now we get to love our happy, healthy baby and that’s what matters in the end. Welcome to the family, boy. We’re glad you made it.