Monday, April 28, 2008

D-Day, part 2: Weathering the worst

[This is a continuation of "D-Day, part 1: An inauspicious beginning."]

Pitocin is the name of the drug that's commonly used to strengthen uterine contractions. I called it many things the night I experienced it. As soon as the Pitocin drip started, I knew right away that I was in for a whole new world of sensation. Within half an hour, the contractions had increased in both frequency and duration. They were lasting about a minute, and were coming every three minutes. Since you measure contractions from start to start, that meant I was only getting two minutes in between to catch my breath and prepare for the next one. With my husband holding my hand and our doula rubbing my back and abdomen, I breathed through so ... very ... many of them between midnight and 6 a.m.

You learn about yourself through six hours of augmented labor. You learn that though you had envisioned yourself entering an altered mental state to deal with the pain (kind of like self-hypnosis), you are in reality so closely attuned to it that escape isn't really possible. You learn that though you'd prefer to simply breathe through the waves, you are one of those women who really sound like they're in labor, "ooooooh"ing and "haaaaaah"ing with the best of them. You learn that you can't predict what a contraction will feel like -- even though you imagine sort of an abdominal Charley horse, what you get is an intense involvement of all your abdominal organs, too. You learn that you need the touch of someone you love to anchor you -- the very few times my husband wasn't holding my hand when I had a contraction, it was much harder to remain relaxed throughout it. You learn that pain can make you physically sick to your stomach. You learn that fatigue can both dull pain and sharpen it, somehow -- the more tired you are, the less you care about the hurting, but the less able you are to meet it with the relaxed muscles you wanted to employ to speed labor along. Those six hours will remain in my memory forever as a time of razor-sharp sensations. That dimly lit hospital room was my entire world for those hours -- I had no spare energy to give any thought to what was happening beyond the boundaries of my belly.

Around 5 in the morning, the nurses checked me again. I was certain, just CERTAIN that I'd dilated to an appreciable 5 or 6 centimeters at least. So I was heartbroken to learn that all that we'd borne had only resulted in one more tiny centimeter's worth of dilation. At that point, I looked at my husband and said, "If I have to keep doing this, I will have *nothing* left when it's time to push. Bring in the epidural."

Once you decide you want an epidural, you want it RIGHT THIS SECOND. Unfortunately (and why don't they tell anyone this?!), once you make that call, you have to have an entire bag of IV fluids administered first before you can get the procedure done. That was the longest hour of them all. I knew the end was in sight, but knowing it would soon be over made every contraction feel even more powerful and overwhelming. Finally the anesthesiologist came in at 6 a.m. and administered the epidural. I wouldn't even have cared if he'd placed me against a wall and shot a needle at my spine from across the room -- I was so glad to get some relief from the relentless contractions. I don't even remember if it hurt at all. I just know that within two contractions, they felt less powerful, and within five, I was lying down and on the verge of exhausted, strung-out sleep.

From 6 a.m., then, until 1 p.m., I was allowed to labor in my sleep as the epidural numbed me from the ribs down -- the doctors wanted me to keep dilating so I could still attempt a non-surgical delivery. Every half hour, nurses came in to turn me from my left side to my right, so that the medication wouldn't settle into my body unevenly and result in unbalanced pain-relief. I was so numb I couldn't even help them roll me over. Under normal circumstances, it probably would have felt embarassing to have two nurses roll my eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant body from one side to another with a minimum of clothing covering me. But by then I SO didn't care anymore. I slept -- gratefully, happily, blissfully. My poor husband, though, bore the worst of it then. He sat in front of the monitors that showed my contractions lined up with the baby's heartbeat, and watched how each contraction made the baby's heart beat slow down perceptibly. He must have stared at the monitor for the entire seven hours I was sleeping -- every time I opened my eyes, he was there, looking with anxious eyes at the monitors next to me. "It doesn't feel right to me," he kept saying.

The nurses were also monitoring my temperature. As it rose slowly, it got closer and closer to the magic threshhold that would dictate medical intervention. When it finally hit 100.5 degrees a little after 1 p.m., my wonderful OB/GYN came into the room and said, "You know what? Let's have a baby." He explained that a C-section would need to be performed to keep the baby safe from the temperature I was running. Within a minute, my formerly quiet, darkened room was lit up and abuzz with nurses and surgical staff prepping me for the surgery. My husband was whisked away to change into scrubs to be at my side. There were no fewer than seven or eight doctors and nurses in the room with me from that point on. I remember asking a few questions, but feeling not disappointed so much as relieved that I'd soon be able to see the baby -- I knew that I would have had a very difficult time finding the energy to push anyway. In the only quiet moment that we had before the surgery, my husband took my hands in his and told me he loved me, and admitted he was worried. I, in my medically buffered numb state, told him it would all be fine, and we said a short prayer together. I was wheeled to the operating room down the hall and transferred from my bed to the operating table.

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