I wasn’t sure what I felt about writing the story of my daughter’s birth. On the one hand, I love to read these – birth is amazing! And I feel that people could get something from this. On the other hand, this was hard. This is going to be real, and raw, and it’s not entirely pleasant. Honestly, I’m still working through a lot of stuff with this, five months later. But ultimately – I feel like I’m here to be honest, and to educate, and sometimes, that means talking about stuff that’s hard, right? So here’s the story of my daughter’s birth. It involves overlooked test results, a lovely case of preeclampsia, and an extra night in the hospital.
I should add in here – my original birth plan was to go into labor naturally, do an unmedicated birth, try to keep moving as much as possible during labor, and go for as little medical intervention as possible. This did not happen – at all.
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What I Should Have Questioned
I’m going to start out by being really frank. I had test results that were out of the normal ranges – and I didn’t follow up with my doctor about them. I was anemic, and almost from the beginning, I was showing an elevated white blood cell count. When I got bloodwork done in June, these were both significant. You know how many people are hot during pregnancy? I had so many people tell me “Oh, you poor thing, you’re pregnant in summer!” I was never hot. I was always freezing. Anemia does that to you. Even now, I try to take an iron supplement, because short of eating a steak every day, I always have that low iron. This is a common problem in women!
I kept seeing my blood pressure, which is normally excellent, creeping steadily upward. In June, I began to swell. It was rough. I couldn’t wear my wedding rings, then I couldn’t wear my shoes. I had a single pair of sandals I could wear, and since I had to wear closed-toe shoes for work, I got to the point where I wore my husband’s incredibly ugly slip-ons. Swelling is normal in pregnancy, especially in summer, but this was a bit extreme – however, my doctor dismissed it, so I figured it was okay. I was keeping track of my blood pressure though, and my diastolic – the bottom number – was consistently in the 87-89 range. It’s a problem in pregnant women when it’s above 90. So, I kept my eye on it and didn’t bring it up at the doctor. She was always busy anyway – she was usually running behind, catching up after a delivery. I tried to keep it pretty quick, because doctors are busy, right?
Here’s what I should have done though – I should have asked about everything that concerned me. I wonder now if pursuing my questions would have maybe lead to some different outcomes.
The First Trip to the Hospital
With all the stuff going on with my blood pressure, I read up on the symptoms I should be aware of. One of the big ones was a headache that wouldn’t go away. I had a day in late July where I had a headache that wasn’t budging, and I kept getting high blood pressure readings. I wound up telling my husband and he came home from work to take me to the hospital. Naturally, when we got into Labor and Delivery Triage, my headache had gone away and my blood pressure was fine.
I was there, already feeling a bit silly, but confident I’d still made the right decision in getting checked. Then I heard my nurse, talking to someone out in the hallway. “I have worst hypertension than she does,” she scoffed, before coming into the room. I wanted to melt. I signed the documents to be released, got dressed, and went home. I hate to feel like I’m bothering someone, and I hate to feel stupid, and I felt both those things. I calmed myself down later by reminding myself that I was responsible for my daughter’s life, and I would rather feel stupid fifteen times a day than risk endangering her.
Due Date, +1
Life went on a few more weeks, and I eventually hit my due date. I was still feeling pretty good, despite it being the middle of August, and my daughter didn’t seem to want to budge. Then, the day after my due date, my husband needed a tire replaced on his car. We went to Sam’s Club to do it. I was just feeling kind of rough and tired. I went to the cafe area and got a drink, hoping it would give me a bit of a boost. My husband noticed I was off and asked what was going on (bless him, he was firmly in that “she grimaced slightly OH MY GOSH IT’S LABOR” mode). I mentioned I had a headache. He made me go to the pharmacy area and use their blood pressure machine. I went along, humoring him more than anything else. I let it take a reading. I don’t remember that exact reading, but I do remember looking at the screen and saying “What the hell?! That can not be right!” I took it again, and I took a picture for reference – 158/99.
There was a display recliner right next to the blood pressure machine. I didn’t even argue when my husband told me to put my feet up. I sat in the recliner for fifteen minutes, while my husband went to find food for dinner and follow up on his car. I played on my phone and smiled at people who walked by and gawked. I think my very pregnant belly probably gave them an idea that I should probably be left alone.
We went home – my husband wanted to take me straight to the hospital, but I pointed out that the hospital bag was in my car, not his, and I probably just needed to prop my feet up at home. Honestly, I just didn’t want to go to the hospital again and just have everything be fine. I sat on the bed, propped my feet up, watched an episode of “Monk,” and took my blood pressure. 150/106. Okay. Time to go to the hospital.
It was raining – a huge thunderstorm. I prayed as we went to the hospital. I prayed for the safety of my daughter. I prayed this would all turn out to be nothing. I prayed we wouldn’t have the same nurse we had before.
My husband and I ran inside through the side entrance of the hospital – well, he ran, I rapidly waddled. We walked through the mostly-deserted hospital hallways, took the elevator up, hit the button to get into L&D. I checked in, they showed me to a room, I put on a gown. I was still hoping this would be nothing.
I gave the urine sample (seriously, you give soooo many urine samples during pregnancy). They took my blood pressure – I saw the nurse raise an eyebrow at the screen, then she took it again. They started an IV – it took five tries. The nurse (not the same one, thankfully!) came in after a bit and told me there was protein in my urine – in fact, she’d never seen a protein level so high. “You’re not leaving here without a baby,” she said. They checked my cervix. The nurse had to physically push it open a bit. “You’re barely a one, and that’s only because I did that,” she said. I knew this was going to be a long night.
They wheeled me back to a delivery room to start inducing me. On the way, the nurse asked if I had a birth plan. I laughed. “It’s already been shot to hell,” I said.
In the delivery room
They started me on magnesium sulfate to bring down my blood pressure, and Pitocin to get my labor going. When the contractions started to hit, they hit hard. The magnesium made me feel like I’d been hit by a truck. I’d already been on them for a couple hours when my doctor came in. It was midnight, and she was clearly tired. She explained what would happen with inducing labor. I honestly have only hazy memories of this – between the magnesium, and just being tired anyway, and being in pain, it was hard to focus. She inserted a balloon to help me start dilating.
I do distinctly remember her telling me that my blood tests showed my platelets were dropping, and we didn’t know how fast they were dropping, and if they dropped below a certain point I wouldn’t be able to get an epidural, and if they dropped beyond another point I would need an emergency C-section. My doctor recommended I get an epidural while I still could, so that if we got to the point of needing a C-section I could be awake during it. The drugs made it hard to focus, and they intensified the pain of the contractions – plus it had become back labor. I was upset my ideal birth wasn’t going to be a possibility, but I was also grateful for the relief an epidural would provide.
Of course, having accepted this change to my plans, there was a rough period there where we had to wait on a new blood test to make sure I was still eligible to get an epidural. It finally came back with the results we needed, and it was about 2 am when the anesthesiologist came in to put the epidural in. That gave me a lot of relief – I was even able to take a nap. Every couple hours, they’d come check to see how I was dilating. I was making slow but steady progress until I was at five centimeters – then I stalled out. I was there for six hours. Finally, the nurse arranged my position which allowed gravity to help do its thing, and within a couple hours I was ready to push.
Transition – the stage between 8-10 centimeters dilation – was one of the worst things I’ve ever put up with. They told me it wasn’t pain I was feeling, it was pressure, but it was also the overwhelming feeling like I had to poop! It was terrible. I focused on breathing through it every time I had a contraction. I talked to myself, cheering myself on. I told my husband we were adopting all future children. It was rough, and it seemed like it went on forever, and all the time my contractions got closer and closer together, giving me less of a break. Being told it was almost time to push was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in my life. I also hit the point there where I simply did not care if I pooped. I never asked, but I’m sure I did, because newsflash – it’s totally normal to poop during delivery. You can either hold stuff in or you can get it all out, and when you have an infant’s head squishing everything in your bowels, it’s coming out.
Pushing wasn’t as bad as I expected. I remembered how to use my breath to work through things. The nurses coached me through it. It only took three contractions before my daughter made her debut. As soon as she was out, they put her on my chest, and I just held her and felt so completely overwhelmed. I don’t remember anything else from the next few minutes. I was only vaguely aware that the placenta was delivered, or that the doctor was sewing a small tear up. I just held my daughter and cried. I told her I loved her and I was so happy to meet her. It took her a moment to start crying. It took me several minutes to think that I needed to let my husband hold her. I handed her off to him, I stared adoringly at the two of them – then all the medication hit me like a ton of bricks.
Because this was so long, I chose to split it up into two parts – you can find part two here.