Labor of Love

I think every first-time mother always has some sort of idea in her mind of how she anticipates her labor and delivery experience will go, depending perhaps on her family background, her pregnancy, and her own personal preferences for labor and delivery. My mother delivered me and my sister with no pain medication and said it was “no big deal.” My pregnancy was relatively easy, complication-free, very textbook. And so I pictured myself going into labor at some random time at home, timing contractions, getting our things together, and then heading to the hospital where I would eventually decide whether or not I’d need the epidural… and then after X minutes/hours of pushing, I’d have that amazing moment when the baby would come out, I’d see the doctor lift her up, everyone would celebrate, we’d all cry tears of joy, and then I’d snuggle her skin-to-skin in awe of it all.

I’d asked some L&D nurse friends what they saw to be the most important factor for a smooth delivery, and they all said the key was flexibility. To be open to whatever happened and whatever the medical staff might advise that you need for a safe delivery. I took that to heart but really didn’t expect that many wrenches to be thrown into the mix.

At 39 weeks and 5 days of pregnancy, I went in for a routine checkup with my OB-GYN. I was not dilated at all so I expected to be sent home to keep waiting, but after checking the ultrasound, we were surprised to hear after no issues or concerns to that point, that my amniotic fluid was low. The doctor sent me over to L&D to be admitted right away, and to be induced. And that was it. It was time.

We went over to L&D and I was nervous. They confirmed that my amniotic fluid level was indeed borderline low, so they explained that they’d give Cervidil that evening to help soften my cervix, and then we’d start Pitocin the next morning. Cervidil induced some contractions – nothing strong enough to dilate me, yet – but they were coming every 1-4 minutes which meant I was constantly cramping and aching throughout the night.

I was trying to hold off on asking for pain medication, but when it hit about 1:30am and their interventions (fluid boluses) to space out the contractions weren’t working, I finally gave in and asked for Stadol because I knew that I’d be exhausted for pushing the next day if I didn’t get some rest. I ended up having some really intensely funny hallucinogenic dreams, one of which was a cartoon in which I was a cartoon character, though I was very aware in my dream that I was just experiencing a side effect from the drug. It was kind of hilarious if not for the fact that I was still in the middle of labor. I wondered if my baby was having hallucinations in my womb as well, and what a baby could hallucinate about.

I got through the night, and then Aster, my angel of a day nurse showed up to help us through the biggest day of our lives. She let me wash up and then started the Pitocin. From there, the contractions gradually increased to the point where I finally asked for the epidural in the early afternoon. It was complication-free and amazing for pain relief, and for that, I was incredibly glad. However, when it finally came time for me to push, I started to deeply regret and question my decision to get the epidural because I could not feel anything. It was extremely hard to know how to direct my pushing efforts and to tell how effective they were. Even though we could see the baby’s head almost as soon as I started pushing, I just could not get her out. I started to feel tired and increasingly frustrated. I had to keep a lot of negative thoughts from building, especially feelings of guilt. I started pushing around 3:20, and by about 4:00, we thought that I might be close to getting her out, so my nurse called the midwife over to prepare the sterile field. I pushed a few more times, but still couldn’t get her out. Up until this point, the baby tolerated it all, but suddenly she started to drop her heart rate to the 60s, and suddenly the room began to fill with people who had that quiet but very urgent and very concerned look on their faces, and I knew we were starting to get into trouble. As a nurse myself, it was a look that I knew all too well and it is just not something you want to see in your caregivers.

From there, things started to move really fast as they wanted to get me over to the OR as soon as possible.  I could hear her decreased HR on the monitor, and I could hear them talking with each other in that urgent tone, and it started to really dawn on me that we could be losing her, right then and there. She might not make it. We could have gone through all of this just to lose her right here. It was the most terrifying and helpless feeling. And then I started to think, another possibility was that she could suffer permanent hypoxia-related brain damage. I was desperate for them to get me to the OR and do whatever they needed to do to make sure she was ok. I asked what was going to happen and a nurse said we might have to do an emergency C-section, but they were calling for the vacuum as well and told me to keep pushing if I felt contractions coming. When they reconnected her to the monitor, I heard and saw that her heart rate was good, above 100, and a decent amount of hope and relief came over me. I tried pushing through a couple more contractions to no avail. Then the doctor was there with the vacuum, and she told me to go ahead and start pushing, and finally, FINALLY… we got her out. I saw them lift her, and then a few moments later I heard her cry – the sound I was so desperate for – and then I just started to cry uncontrollably. All of the fear and guilt and relief and sadness and joy just spilled out and I could not stop crying. I could hear her crying, I could hear Stephen crying, and finally I settled down with exhaustion and overwhelmedness as they examined her and sutured me up. Apparently her umbilical cord had gotten balled up at her abdomen, which eventually led to the decreased heart rate with my pushing because it was getting compressed. The relief that she was ok was indescribable. I profusely thanked the nurse who had come over to whisper encouragement in my ear in those last desperate moments of pushing. There were so many amazing people who had shown up and helped us through it all.

They took her to the NICU to watch her for her breathing and to check for any signs of infection, but we finally got to bring her home after she stayed for four days in the NICU. Yes, the sleepless nights have been challenging, and it has not helped that I developed an unexpected abscess on my arm requiring additional medical care in addition to my standard postpartum healing process. But after having experienced the potential of losing her or having her run into more serious complications, I treasure her now all the more. All that matters is that she is here with us, 3AM diaper changes, breastfeeding challenges, mommy’s arm infection issues and all. She is worth it. She is a gift of grace from the hand of a merciful God.

There is not enough time nor space here to write more reflections on the experience. But for now, I wanted to at least share the story of the day my precious daughter entered the world. I could not be more grateful for her presence in our lives.