PART TWO: The Induction
Luckily, Shaun managed to switch his usual Sunday evening shift for a Sunday day shift — meaning on that stressful night, when we were waiting to find out if we’d be parents sooner rather than later — he got to be home with me to try and keep me sane.
We truly had a lovely evening together, and looking back, knowing how it all ends — I’m so glad we did. It felt like we were standing on the edge of a cliff, trying to keep our balance: one the one hand, we could go in to the birth center on Monday and end up being kept, induced, having a baby sooner than expected. On the other — all this fuss and worry might be for naught. We might be sent home, and end up laughing Monday evening in our living room about how keyed up we were over nothing.
So I wanted to make an effort to be sure that if this was our last night home together, we really made space to honor how special that was. Shaun set up to grill — it’s always one of our favourite ways to spend an evening. He did his special chicken marinade and grilled squash and zucchini, so we had a healthy meal, and we enjoyed the summer evening as we had so many other summer evenings — the little brick patio, Shaun grilling and singing as he always does, the sunlight in the blue sky, the wind rustling the tree branches.
The other thing I wanted to make sure to do, even if we weren’t sure how the next day would go, would be to get a few final belly pictures. My gut had started talking to me loud and clear in the last few days, and as the days went on, I really started listening to it. I didn’t know for sure what would happen the next day, but I felt pretty sure the next time I was home again, I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore. Shaun and I had had our beautiful maternity session with Rachael, but those pictures had my belly covered and not super defined. I really wanted some pictures that showed of the glory and majesty of a pregnant belly — which meant hugeness and stretch marks included. I snuck off the couch for a few minutes, long enough for Shaun to snap some bare belly pictures of me with Baby Girl inside for what might be the last time. (And in retrospect, I’m so glad I have these pictures, have captured my big, beautiful belly, those last few days of Baby Girl safe and snug inside me.)
Sweet Emi came over later that night, to have one final pep talk and strategy session. All along these last couple days, Emi had been so supportive and just an absolute rock. She kept reminding me — this is not you. This is nothing you’ve done or not done. You’ve been one of my best doula patients ever, I’ve not had to worry about what you’re eating or doing, you’ve done such a great job taking care of yourself and baby, and this is just something we can’t control. It was everything I needed to hear, over and over again, as I continued to blame myself.
We rehashed everything that she and I, and Shaun and I had discussed over the last few days. That preparing for and accepting the worst, but trying to remain strong and hopeful and positive. Shaun’s and my philosophy on our marriage and life in general is to always try and help each other, remain positive, and be a team. We were just as determined to have that mindset in the next couple days — and with a support team like we had, headed up by Emi, I honestly felt pretty confident about what we would face the next morning. I was still apprehensive, but already, I felt so supported and loved — first and foremost by Shaun, who never failed with his sunny attitude and unwavering support, and then by Emi, Kristin, Jeannie, Lauren, and my mother — and all the other Fierce Ladies who wouldn’t be in attendance when we went into labor. I knew I couldn’t control what would happen next, but I knew no matter what did happen, I wouldn’t be alone.
Before bed, Shaun and I had a lot of quiet time alone together, to really appreciate this possible last night as just a married couple, with no children. We really tried to reserve some holy space to honor this transition in our lives, and to share our love for each other before we moved onto this new phase of being a family.
Monday morning, we were up early. We’d been told to come in around seven-thirty or eight in the morning, so we could get started early and have all day to deal with whatever happened. We’d packed our bags, ready to stay and be induced and give birth and bring our baby home if necessary. We’d made sure Kitty had enough food and water and clean litter, we’d packed the car up and double-checked our lists. Shaun had warned his work that he might be late, or else not coming in at all. We took a moment, just before we walked out the door, to snap two pictures — one of Kitty and me, Kitty’s last day as an only child, and one of Shaun and me, our last day without Baby Girl.
(what are those expressions, I mean, really)
Then — feeling giddy and a tiny bit surreal, we got in the car. We kept laughing, man, we are taking this so seriously, but we could totally be back here in a couple hours with no baby yet. We’d spent so much of Sunday night feeling like we would definitely be induced, but once we were in the car, it felt silly to think that. Suddenly, I felt like we were over-serious and over-prepared, that it was very unlikely we’d be induced and everything would be normal and we’d come home.
We started the drive out — turning around once because we’d left my jug of pee for my 12-hour urine sample at home, despite reminding each more than once to grab it. Laureny had called to wish us luck, and asked when I’d do my urine sample — and I smacked my head to my forehead and told Shaun to turn around and head back to the house. But we made it to the birth center just after eight, and walked in with jug of pee in hand, leaving our bags in the car in case we got to actually go home.
One of the biggest blessings of that Monday was the fact that Kristin happened to be on duty. This was a good thing, first and foremost, to put me at ease and make our arrival and monitoring more comfortable — but would become a huge deal as the day went on and life became more complicated. Kristin and I had messaged a lot over the previous couple days, and she had talked me through everything she’d be doing with me that morning, making sure I felt comfortable and understood what to expect.
Do you want the Jude suite? she’d texted as we drove out, meaning the room in the birth center where Emi had given birth to Jude. Sure! I’d texted back, seems like a good one.
That surreal feeling came back as Kristin got us settled in the Jude suite. Shaun and I had both felt pretty confident that morning, but the nervous feeling crept back in when Kristin started getting out monitors and belts, waking up machines and screens. At first, this Monday morning was much the same as the Wednesday before — Kristin hooked me up to a fetal heartrate monitor, a contractions monitor, and then, finally, the dreaded blood pressure cuff. She had me lying on one side, the lights down low, and said the blood pressure cuff would go off every fifteen minutes for a while. She kept us laughing as she did, giving me my belated Blessingway gifts from Lush, telling a funny story about her son Simon messing with some of them. I felt this curious feeling, at this point — part of me was totally calm, chill. Trusting in the process and that there was nothing I could do. But this other, more secretive, instinctual part of me was nervous, scared. I knew the next few hours would be a big deal in determining when our daughter would arrive, and as much as I wanted to be in charge, I couldn’t be.
A nurse from the lab came by to take the first of MANY blood samples to do some lab work, and then Shaun and I were left alone. Much like the Wednesday alone, at first, we tried to be very zen. I listened to some Hypnobirthing tracks, hoping it would keep me calm, and my blood pressure low and control. Shaun sat next to my bed in a chair, holding my hand and stroking my forehead. Our first reading was a little high, but not terrible; just over 140. Kristin had allowed the first one might be a little high as we got settled, and I was mostly relieved it wasn’t high 140s, or in the 150s. I held hope that it would go down if we just calmed down.
But – it didn’t. For the first hour, we tried the calm, quiet, peaceful method; and my blood pressure continued to climb.
OK, fine, I said, finally. We learned last time — let’s not focus on calm. Let’s just be our goofy selves and try and distract me.
Shaun got my phone, and we entertained ourselves by watching our favourite drag queens (YAS QUEEN) on YouTube. We ignored the sound of the blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes, and I tried to ignore the tightening around my arm. We laughed at the videos, but soon realized the blood pressure cuff would clue us in whether we liked it or not: if my reading was under 140, it made no sound after its reading. We didn’t hear a whole lot of that silence. If it was over 140, we got a relatively quick ding-dong, ding dong, before it shut itself off. We heard a lot of that. And if it was too scary high, the alarm went off until a nurse came in to turn it off. And eventually, Shaun himself learned how to turn off that alarm, because we heard it too often.
Late morning, my midwife came in, and I definitely felt relieved to see her. Kristin had been taking such good care of us, but any decision making wasn’t up to Kristin. My midwife would be able to clue us in to the plan for the next few hours, and make or help us make some decisions to get us out of the waiting period, I hoped. It was a relief just to see her, she’s so comforting and firm in her manner. Her no-nonsense attitude always makes me feel calmer, like it’s silly for me to worry if she didn’t.
I remember feeling so confused — how could my blood pressures keep changing so drastically? How could they be lower one minute, then skyrocket the next? It didn’t make any sense to me, I still thought it was something I was doing — or wasn’t doing right.
My midwife confirmed what we all knew — my blood pressures were concerning, becoming a little scary. She told us they were still waiting on my lab work, but she was fairly certain we weren’t leaving today, that I had preeclampsia and would need an induction. But she was going to wait on the blood and urine samples before calling it for sure.
I tried to make excuses for myself — the same excuses I’d been making for days now. I feel like if I could just calm down, everything would be fine. Every time the cuff tightens, I just feel myself jump and my heart start racing.
My midwife said something very important then — something that didn’t quite make sense that exact moment — but later would click with a resounding certainty. She heard me try and explain away the serious health issues I was having, and made a sort of sympathetic smile, and then was very honest.
Listen, white coat syndrome, that can make someone’s blood pressure jump up a couple points here and there. It’s NOT going to make it jump up ten, twenty points. This isn’t you being nervous, this is something bigger. Preeclampsia puts you at serious risk for a stroke or seizure — stroke level blood pressures are 160. We’re going to take this very seriously.
It didn’t sink in, then, but it stuck with both Shaun and me throughout the day, and later on would be a great deal of comfort to me.
We ended up waiting maybe another hour or so, before the midwife was back with an official diagnoses of preeclampsia. My labs had come back — not bad, but I had some elevated uric acid levels, which was yet another sign of preeclampsia. Things weren’t bad yet, my midwife explained, but it was enough to make her call it preeclampsia and start a course of action.
I hadn’t read up much on preeclampsia before — I so wish I had, now. Of all the many pregnancy complications I had researched so thoroughly, preeclampsia wasn’t one of them. I just did not think I would get it, for some bizarre and perhaps ironic reason. I just didn’t think it was a concern. I’d heard it mentioned fairly often, but didn’t think it would apply to me, so I really didn’t understand what it entailed, and what it would mean for me. What I’ve since learned is that basically, suddenly, your body can’t handle being pregnant — blood pressures skyrocket, and there are signs of damage to organ systems – usually liver or kidneys. Untreated, it can lead to seizure or stroke. And for some reason, it’s more common in first pregnancies, like mine.
The only cure for preeclampsia, my midwife explained, was delivery. They could treat the symptoms and try to lower the risk factors for stroke and seizure, but the condition wouldn’t go away until I’d delivered my baby. Since I was 38 weeks, 6 days on Monday, and would be 39 weeks on Tuesday, the medical team felt Baby Girl was full term and ready to meet the world. Which meant I was in fact going to be induced that day.
In some ways, I felt relieved. After a morning of lying still and waiting, trying not to worry — after four days of doing the same, just at home — it felt good to know we were taking action and had a definite plan. The finish line might be out of sight, but at least we knew it was near. I felt almost invigorated at this point. Nervous, yes, but with a renewed sense of energy and excitement. Shaun and I both were trying to wrap our heads around the reality that within the next 24-48 hours, we would be parents and hold our daughter in our hands.
But suddenly, quite a lot of things started to happen very quickly. My midwife would have to consult with the on-call doctor – the midwife normally handles straight forward deliveries without complication, and this case had to confer with one of the doctors. But they agreed on a course of action, and for the immediate future, my midwife would still be managing my care. But that course of action meant I was suddenly having a lot of treatments done, and hooked up to a lot of things.
A magnesium sulfate drip was the primary method to help manage the preeclampsia. Magnesium helps lower the stroke and seizure threshold, meaning even if my blood pressures continued to be high, it would hopefully help prevent either of those things from happening. But the magnesium meant a lot of restrictions — I was bedridden now. Not just on bed rest and discouraged from getting up — I was not allowed out of bed, at all. I wasn’t even free to be positioned in the bed however I wished — I was limited to lying on one side or the other to also help keep blood pressure down. Because I was bedridden, and to monitor urine outputs (another symptom of preeclampsia was limited urine output — a warning sign of kidneys shutting down), I had to have a catheter put in.
Kristin got me started with both of these. She was still such a blessing to have, explaining as she went, making us laugh as she got things organized and bustled around. I mentioned in Emi’s birth story, how sometimes it can be slightly odd or at least amusing to have someone you know so well be your nurse, especially in such an intimate situation. But Kristin is such a good nurse, this didn’t really bother me. She got my IV in easily, and with no more pain than is necessary with an IV, and then got a bag of fluids and the magnesium started.
Then she put in my catheter, which — she did a fine job, and it wasn’t any more awkward than any other nurse putting one in. But I haaaated the catheter. I’ve never had one before, and I’m sure no one likes them, but it was really frustrating. It was the first thing all day that made me irritable. The catheter itself wasn’t painful, exactly, but for the first little while, it was really uncomfortable. It made me feel like I constantly had to pee, there was never any sort of release. Sure, I didn’t actually have to pee, or else, I was constantly peeing — but I had that feeling of needing to relieve myself and never every being able to. I remember, early on, really hating this — but I did get used to it, especially as the situation continued to change, and the catheter was the least of my worries.
As Kristin worked on both these things, Shaun and I got busy updating our support teams. I texted brief explanations to my mom, Jeannie, Emi, and Lauren; all of whom I was expecting to see later on that day, and promised to call them as soon as possible. I texted slightly longer explanations to my Fierce Lady Tribe members who would not be joining us — updating them, and asking for their prayers and well-wishes as the day progressed. Shaun texted his dad to keep his parents updated in China, and his brother at our home, and then his work to let them know he wouldn’t be coming in.
Another limitation and frustration to the magnesium was because it’s what’s called a soft tissue softener. It’s part of what helps it prevent stroke and seizure, but it meant they considered me at risk for choking, as it softens the esophagus as well. I had suspected I’d be commanded not to eat soon, but had no idea that would include no water either. Quickly, Shaun snuck me three peanut butter crackers before the official command was issued. It would be the last real food I would eat from Monday until Wednesday evening. I couldn’t have any sips of water either, and that was distressing. Sure, I was getting fluids via IV, but my mouth quickly went dry and parched. Kristin had told me I could have ice chips. At the time, the ice chips seemed like a weak substitute. Later on, I would come to change that opinion.
The magnesium itself was pretty awful. Kristin explained they were giving me a huge dose at the beginning, to get a large amount of it in my system as quickly as possible. As it started pumping through the IV and into my arm, I got hugely flushed. Flushed isn’t even the right word — magnesium can make you super hot and super uncomfortable. It also just made me feel — bad. Like I had a fever or the flu. At the time, I didn’t realize how long I’d be on the magnesium or what a big impact it’d have on my entire week — right then, I just wanted to try and stay positive and upbeat and ignore the discomfort.
Then it was time to get started on the induction. I had imagined the induction would mean going pretty much straight to Pitocin, and that actual labor would be rocking and rolling pretty soon. Even though I figured labor would be long, I thought we would be getting to the real work pretty soon. Turns out my induction didn’t go quite so quickly, or so smoothly.
My midwife said she wanted to check me first, and see what was going on with my cervix and Baby Girl’s position, to see what we were up against. Again, our worst fear was that even though preeclampsia had decided I needed to give birth as soon as possible, Baby Girl would not be ready and it would be a slow, complicated process.
So, my midwife checked me for the first time, and the results were pretty much exactly what we didn’t want to hear. My cervix was completely closed, barely thinned out, and Baby Girl felt very, very high — not engaged and moved into my pelvic bone, ready for birth, at all. So much so that the midwife actually went and got a sonogram machine because she wanted to confirm baby was even head down as she should be – the baby felt so high up and unengaged that she felt there was maybe a possibility that Baby Girl was breech. A quick ultrasound confirmed that she was in fact head down — just basically miles above my pubic bone. Comfortable, relaxed, and not at all ready to be born this day or the next.
That was a bit discouraging, I could tell my midwife wasn’t pleased that we’d have to start an induction this way; but there wasn’t really anything we could do but to move forward. My midwife said since my cervix was so not ready and Baby Girl was so high, they wanted to start me on a different path first. There was a pill called Cytotec that would be administered vaginally, and attached to the cervix. It was supposed to help soften and dilate the cervix, and hopefully get me closer to start of labor conditions before we actually started prompting labor.
At this point, I was still pretty positive. I wasn’t exactly pleased that we were starting off so unfavorably, but I trusted my midwife and at that point, had no reason to think this procedure wouldn’t progress exactly as it was supposed to.
I have to mention this story, even though Kristin will kill me for mentioning it — one of the few laughs of the day came when the midwife came to insert the first dose of Cytotec. Kristin got the tiny sliver of pill from the head nurse, and brought it in so the midwife could do the procedure. My midwife explained what she was going to do, and we all got into position. Checks are never comfortable, but the first one hadn’t been too bad, and with Shaun standing next to me, holding my hand and reminding me to breathe through the discomfort, I didn’t expect this one to be much worse, even if the midwife was inserting a pill.
I laid back, closed my eyes, and listened to Shaun’s sweet voice reminding me to breathe and relax. And then, I heard from both women at the foot of the bed, a sharp intake of breathe and then Oh no!
That’s not exactly what I want to hear right now, I said, mostly joking. I peeked open my eyes. What happened?
We dropped it, Kristin said, I — I dropped it.
KRISTIN! the midwife exclaimed.
Shaun and I started laughing. It’s fine, I joked, 5 second rule, just pick it up.
No! the midwife insisted, as if I was serious.
Fifteen minutes later, we had a new pill, and my midwife tried the insertion again. This time, it was not dropped, and although it was uncomfortable, it didn’t hurt.
Then — we were set for a while. My midwife told me she’d be back to check me in a few hours to see if the pill had made much progress.
The afternoon was pretty pleasant, considering the circumstances. I was uncomfortable, between the catheter, the magnesium, and being trapped in bed in limited positions, and no food or water — but our moods were still good. We thought we were well on the road to meeting our daughter.
We had called or texted our birth support team, and as the afternoon progressed, they started to arrive. Lauren came first, bearing lunch for Shaun, which he kindly ate out of sight and out of smell from me. Lauren kept me company, and as she settled into our suite, it was the first of what became such a common theme and such a gift throughout this whole experience — my support team gave me such a sense of normalcy throughout this. They all kept calm and proceeded with this very positive attitude that didn’t allow for worry or anxiety. Lauren set up her laptop and worked on stuff for the dance studio, and chitchatted with me as she did, and for a while, that helped everything feel more normal.
Soon after, almost one after another, my mom, Emi, and my sister Jeannie arrived. We had a lovely little ambiance for a while, and for a time, it almost seemed like we’d still get to have the happy birth I’d hoped for. Emi put up my banner from my Blessingway, she fought for me to be able to have ice chips — my midwife allowed them, but the doctor consulting with her usually did not. Just don’t let her catch you, we were advised. Emi even brought honey, just so she could give me fingertips of it from time to time to give me a tiny bit of energy when I couldn’t eat.
The room was super cold — to everyone else. I look back on the pictures from the first two days at the birth center and laugh — everyone else is just huddled up in blankets or sweaters. But I was so, so hot and uncomfortable from the magnesium, we had to keep the air down low to try keep me from being miserable.
We had a couple relaxed hours, chatting and taking pictures. Lauren braided my hair back for me. Jeannie promised to bring back her salt lamp and some nail polish to do my nails. Emi grabbed my camera and snapped a few pictures to try and capture the mood. I alternated talking with everybody, and lying back, listening to Hypnobirthing to keep me calm, or sleep tones to try and help me rest. We were all really trying to keep everything normal — but the afternoon started to go downhill.
First, my midwife returned in a few hours as promised. Wow, we’ve got a party going on in here, she said as she came in. When she’d left, it’d been Shaun and me and occasionally Kristin — now the room was nearly full. I introduced everyone and my midwife chatted amiably for a few minutes, before asking if I wanted anyone to leave the room before she checked me again. I told the room if anyone was uncomfortable, they were welcome to leave but I didn’t mind if they stayed, and everyone did.
I was starting to feel really sore all over; which at the time, I contributed to being trapped in bed for hours and hours. It’s always hard to move around when you’re 9 months pregnant, but it was becoming harder and harder. It seemed like my hips and knees weren’t cooperating with me, weren’t moving like I needed them too. As the midwife settled at the edge of the bed, she was really sweet and gentle, helping to move my legs and feet into a better position so she could check me. It felt like my body had forgotten how to move.
The check wasn’t particularly good news. After over four hours, the Cytotec had barely done any work at all. My midwife called me one centimeter, but only barely. Still very hard and very high up. Really almost no progress.
Well, we’ll just do another dose, the midwife said, aiming for cheerful.
Just don’t drop it this time, I said, but I felt less joking than I had before.
She got the second round of Cytotec in, and promised again that she’d be back to check my progress in several hours. Mom, the girls, Shaun and I tried to settle back in to that positive, cheerful mood we’d had before, but it was getting hard.
I noticed the nurses were bustling in more often. The blood pressure alarm kept going off. I’d long since stopped asking what the readings were. Knowing the numbers made me nervous, and at that point, I was still convinced me being anxious was contributing to the issues. The nurses had turned down the monitors so even the baby heart rate monitor didn’t drown out the room, and they’d taught Shaun and the others how to turn off the blood pressure alarm. For the most part, we tried to ignore it all together.
But the nurses kept coming in, checking and resetting the cuff, trying to get me to roll on to my other side to see if my readings would get any better. At one point, Kristin came on and actually started putting padding on my bed rails — in case I had a seizure or a stroke. That was a big shocking moment. It definitely gave me a little jolt of fear, that this was so much a possibility that they had to put padding on my bed to keep me from hurting myself if I seized.
Then the alarm went off and off and off — and as the nurse came in to check me, I asked what the readings had been. It almost felt like no one wanted to tell me, but Shaun finally spoke up.
The last two were 175 and 180, he told me quietly.
I just started crying. I couldn’t help it.
My midwife had told us that stroke and seizure threshold was 160, and here I was, waaaay over that limit.
For the first time, it felt like it sunk in that something was really wrong. That I was really sick. That this was a really serious situation.
I had been so committed to being positive, to looking on the bright side, to rolling with the punches and being adaptable. I had practiced my breathing, I had stayed calm, I’d made jokes and been friendly and polite at every stage, no matter how discouraging. And nothing had changed for the positive — everything was getting worse.
I still felt so responsible, I felt like a failure. I could see the birth I had dreamed of slipping away from me. It felt like there wasn’t much point in being positive because it wasn’t going to do any good. I felt like whatever was ahead of me was going to be harder in a much different way than I’d expected. I’d prepared for the pain of contractions, of the long-term mind game. But this was completely unlike any reality I’d even considered. I wanted so much to be adaptable, but this level of complication and limitation were beyond anything I’d thought were a possibility. I had anticipated birth – I hadn’t anticipated complications.
Emi saw me losing my shit, and zeroed in on me, like the incredible doula she is.
This isn’t you, she whispered in my ear, hugging me close. This is nothing you’ve done or haven’t done. You are sick, this is beyond your control. You’re doing everything right, you’re doing so good. This isn’t you.
I gave in, finally, and cried for a little bit. I felt bitterly disappointed at this point, and scared. I was growing more and more uncomfortable by the hour, the longer the magnesium drip was on, I was starving and in pain and really tired — and we hadn’t even reached labor yet. This wasn’t even the hard part! I felt a little defeated.
But that cry did me some good. I needed a moment to let it all out, and stop bottling up my frustration. I just feel like you could literally take out my birth plan, I told the room, and just cross off EVERY SINGLE THING.
I never thought that my birth would go 100% according to plan — not even close. I knew and expected things to change and go differently. But this was an entirely different animal — this was turning into a nightmare. I’d wanted to go into labor naturally, doing nothing to augment it. I’d wanted to stay home as long as possible and labor in the safety of my home. I’d wanted freedom to eat and drink, I’d wanted freedom to move and use different positions to cope, maybe even some form of water. My birth plan wasn’t a strict schedule, it wasn’t at this many cms I MUST do this — but it was a list of preferences I knew would help me cope and keep me strong for the road ahead. Preferences that might seem like small details, but to a high sensitive person (sensory as well as emotionally) — I knew those things would help me be successful and calm in light of the challenge I’d be facing.
And yet, here I was, being induced, being monitored a hundred different ways, getting medicine pumped through my veins. Literally trapped in bed, and limited even on the positions in bed. Unable to eat or drink, hiding the ice chips I snuck in. We weren’t even making good progress on the induction — I had expected to be on Pitocin and laboring seriously by now.
Once I got all that emotion out, I was able to recover a bit. Get that head in the game again, and focus on doing the hard work that lay ahead of me. I think part of what helped so much was everyone else around me. When I look back on various points of my birth, I wish I could see what happened from everyone else’s point of view. I didn’t realize it at the time, because they did such a good job holding their act together. Everyone on my support team was so committed to being positive and not showing any fear. Never did I pick up a flicker of worry from anyone else. I’d asked them all to act this way, back when I’d expected a birth that started at home and progressed normally. But everyone still held to that plan when we were here in this scarier, less predictable situation.
Because of that, I hardly ever tapped into the fear and worry that was growing in me. I remember thinking a lot that I must be a big baby, for feeling so sick and bad and sore and scared. In my head, clearly, this wasn’t that bad. No one else was shaken up or worried, it looked like, and so I really felt like I needed to find my calm and really get motivated to deal with whatever came next, since we were certainly in for a longer road than expected.
But Shaun said at this point, when the readings were so high, he was legitimately scared, and everyone else was too. When they left the room, to go make a phone call or run in and out for food, they gathered in small clumps and talked very seriously amongst themselves, letting their worries out. Shaun admitted that he’d been scared when they put the padding on the bed, and terrified when the reading hit 175 and 180. I had a talk with myself, he said, and told myself I really needed to get prepared to see something really scary and bad happen to my wife. He was really convinced I was going to have a seizure in front of him, and he and a couple of the others agreed that they were surprised that they didn’t take me for a C-section right that second.
I was pretty oblivious to all of this. Like I said, everyone was so calm, so quick to love on me and tell me I was doing a good job. They playacted with really convincing ability, so I managed to regain my cool and try and settle in for another long stretch of time before we’d hear anymore news. The nurses talked about possibly starting me on some new medicines to help lower the preeclampsia blood pressures, but I don’t think we actually did at that time. It seemed they were just way stricter on what way I was allowed to lay. Once or twice, I’d gotten to lay on my back for a few minutes, to rest my aching hips, but that was forbidden after.
In the evening, that support team started to slip away. I couldn’t blame them — at this slow rate we were progressing, it was very unlikely we’d see anything interesting before the next morning at the very least. They all needed their rest, some had families to attend to. Travis had already come by with Baby Jude once, so Emi could nurse her. He came in with the baby and held my hand, let Jude give me kisses. I tried to be chipper for them, but I was feeling worse and worse as time went on.
(He also brought a can of tuna for Shaun as a joke, due to the tuna sandwich I accidentally brought him when Emi gave birth to Jude.)
Lauren left and promised to come back in the morning before work at her studio. Jeannie went to run home and get some sleep, and ended up staying. Mom left but promised to come back late at night or early in the morning. Emi reluctantly left, promising that she’d be back with full strength and a good night’s rest to help us in the next big day. I knew that was for the best, I knew I’d be needing her more the next day — but I didn’t want her or anyone else to leave.
Everyone trickled off, and we began a long, long night at the birth center. That night was one of the worst parts about the entire experience. Kristin’s shift ended at seven, and so after giving her report to a new nurse, T, she left to go take care of her family. T was very nice — she has beautiful hair, I remember whispering to Shaun, I want to tell her but I don’t know if she’ll think that’s weird? — but we didn’t know her as well as Kristin, didn’t have that long friendship that made the situation seem more familiar.
Shaun ran out for a few minutes to get himself dinner, before everyone left us, and after he came back and ate it, I reluctantly encouraged him to get some rest as well. Yet again, I knew that was the smart decision – more than anyone else, I needed him to be at full strength and well rested the next day, when the birth would certainly get more intense. But I did not want him to sleep any more than I’d wanted everyone to head home.
Those hours stretched long and endless, and I felt very alone. My midwife had encouraged me to rest as much as I was able. More than anything else right now, you need to rest, she’d told me. I wanted to — so much. I was so tired. We hadn’t slept a ton or particularly great the night before, in our excitement, and with all the monitoring and labs and procedures, I hadn’t really rested all day. I was exhausted — but sleep was impossible for me.
Everyone knows you don’t sleep well in the hospital under the best of circumstances. These were not the best of circumstances. The blood pressure cuff still went off every fifteen minutes and squeezed my arm. Every few hours, a nurse came by to draw blood. If the blood pressure reading was too high, a nurse came in to check on me. If the baby got lost on her heart rate monitor, they came into adjust it and find her again. A nurse had to come in every couple hours and check my urine output and empty it, then take my temperature and pulse.
And in truth – I was starting to feel really bad. Again, I was pretty hard on myself. I kept telling myself to suck it up and tough it out and not complain — but I was hurting a lot. My midwife had said the Cytotec might kickstart a contraction or two, and it did — but they were baby contractions that barely registered on the nurse’s monitors. Still, it was one more thing to contend with during the long night. And the magnesium was really doing a number on me. There was that flushed hot feeling in its intensity, there was the flu-like feeling, and most of all, there was the joint pain. What had started out as inconvenient discomfort was turning into a very real pain. In pregnancy, our hips and lower back never feel awesome — but this was taking that pain to a whole new level. All of my joints ached and ached to the point where I couldn’t ignore it. My knees, my ankles, my shoulders, and wrists — but above all, my hips and my lower back. Having to lie only on one side didn’t help matters – the way I laid, slightly propped up, put all my weight on my hips, and they just hurt me so very badly. Sleep was impossible, even with my headphones in, even listening to Hypnobirthing relax tracks or my sleep tones.
Whatever side I was lying on, that hip hurt the worst — but the other hip hurt too, and my back never stopped. I tried very much to ignore it, to breathe through the pain and not fixate on it. But alone in the dark, it was nearly impossible. I even tried focusing on positive birth affirmations — hoping that I could jump-start labor and get things going. I laid there and thought open, open, open, willing my cervix to soften and open, really seeing it happen in my minds’ eye.
And here and there, I cracked. I felt sorry for myself. I felt so alone. I wished there was some way I could take all of this back — starting with the preeclampsia. I wished myself home and safe and healthy in my bed, waiting a few more days for my labor to start naturally when my body and my baby were ready — because my baby clearly wasn’t ready right then. It was a hard, dark period where I had nothing and no one to distract myself from my worst fears and pain.
(It feels ridiculous, sometimes, to complain about all this, knowing that so many women go through, you know, actual labor in a way that I didn’t. But at this point in time, I still thought that kind of labor and birth was ahead of me, so it was daunting to me to think that I wasn’t even going to be facing that much more painful and intense place before too long. Being emotionally prepared for a situation is really important to me — I can handle a lot of stress when I’ve taken time to brace for its impact. When I’m caught off guard, or overwhelmed — my emotions are very strong and very intense, and they can quickly take over and take me from a secure place of strength to an unstable place of panic. I felt challenged, at this point, to keep from letting my emotions take over, and I was working very hard to try not to fixate on the pain I felt, even as I was aware I was losing strength as the hours ticked by and I wasn’t any closer to actual labor. )
My sweet mama came back around three or four AM, and that was a wonderful thing. She also napped off and on in one of the chairs, but having gotten sleep at home in her own bed, she was quick to get up and attend me whenever I needed. The main thing I needed was help switching side to side. The pain in my hips was so bad that I really couldn’t stand to lie on each side for more than 15 minutes before the pain got too hard to ignore. I tried to make it twenty minutes, pushing myself until I couldn’t stand it. But of course — rolling over was a big to-do, and another reason sleep was impossible.
Rolling over involved hauling my big, giant, 9-month pregnant belly from one side to the other — hard enough. My legs weren’t working very well from the magnesium, all those joints stiff and useless. Then there was all the STUFF to contend with — the blood oxygen monitor on my finger, my IV, the catheter and its bag, the baby’s heart monitor, my contractions monitor, the blood pressure cuff — and all of their cords. In order to try and make me comfortable, I had pretty much every pillow in the suite as well as the two we’d brought from home, propping me up in various places and taking to take the pressure off. Every time I rolled over, I had to finagle the cords and the monitors and all the pillows into a new position.
Which was where Mom came in, tugging and pulling and ordering cords, fluffing pillows and hauling me from one side to the other, helping me scoot higher up in bed as I kept shifting down and down. I also felt terribly guilty for some reason, every time I rolled over. Pretty much every time I did, my squiggly, wiggly baby in my belly shifted too and fell off her heart rate monitor. Meaning every time, I rolled over — again, about every 20-30 minutes – Nurse T had to come in and fiddle with the monitor, often rolling up a washcloth and sticking it under the band to try and hold it in the exact right spot, until they found Baby Girl on the monitor again. I was so uncomfortable, rolling so often, and I felt bad every time she had to come in and adjust me.
It’s her job, Mom kept reminding me, it’s really slow out there and nothing’s going on, she’s probably happy to have something to do.
Worse — by early, early morning, I’d gotten to the point where I would just roll over, without notifying her first, or trying to keep the monitor in place. For the first few minutes on the new side, I’d feel relief and comfort. Mom would settle back in her seat, I’d adjust my headphones and try to close my eyes and relax enough to sleep. And as it got closer to real morning, I would actually drift off for a few minutes, most likely out of pure exhaustion — until T or one of the other nurses came in, usually just as I’d nearly fallen asleep, and had to poke and prod at me to get the baby’s heart rate again.
By 4 AM, I just didn’t care anymore. I managed maybe 20 straight minutes of actual sleep just because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. A nurse came in to do my blood work and couldn’t find a good vein anymore after how many times I’d been stuck (I have terrible baby veins that are impossible to find), and took a blood sample out of my wrist — way more painful than any other spot I’d been stuck yet. I tried to close my eyes and sleep again, but it was no use.
And then the midwife returned. Oh, good, she exclaimed, you managed to get some sleep!
Sorta, I replied, drily.
I’m going to check you again, she told me, and see if we’ve made any progress since the last time, OK?
I agreed, and she and Mom helped ease me into position.
(We let Shaun sleep on at this point, until there was something worth reporting. Bless him.)
My midwife checked me, and at this point, these checks didn’t really phase me. Uncomfortable, yes, but nothing noteworthy. Her report, again, was not good.
In fact, she looked the most concerned I think I’ve ever seen her.
Still really not much of a change, she told me as she stood back up and helped me lie back again. You’re still one, maybe two centimeters. Really high, really hard. Baby’s still really high too. She hesitated, and then she said, At this point, I’m not really sure. You know I’m still leaving by noon, and I’m starting to think the doctor [who’d be taking over when my midwife left] will want to do a C-section with you. I wouldn’t be surprised.
The news, at that point, didn’t frighten me as much as it might have the day before. In fact, it almost felt like a relief. This didn’t seem to be going well. I had been warned an induction’s labor would go slow, and that’s what we wanted, so the Pitocin didn’t freight train me into labor — but at this point, we hadn’t even started Pitocin. Aside from those occasional contractions, I wasn’t even in labor. I was feeling really discouraged. I felt like I was getting more and more exhausted, more and more in pain, losing more and more of my strength — and we hadn’t even hit the big time yet. I wasn’t even remotely close to meeting my baby. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to do work yet. Instead, I was exhausted, in pain, and waiting with less and less patience to meet the challenge I’d been preparing for so long.
I don’t mean to complain as if having a perfect birth is the only thing that mattered — sure, I wanted a empowering birth with water and dim lighting as much as any hippie, crunchy mama-to-be. But my real priority was feeling safe and empowered, and I didn’t feel either of those things. Lying there, in pain and failing at going into labor, I felt like, of course women get epidurals. Of course they do, if they’re trapped in bed and can’t move, or are induced. Of course. There’s no way you can do this when you’re trapped like this. Of course it feels impossible. If anything, despite the fact I personally couldn’t be walking the halls or changing positions or laboring in the tub, I had this moment of feeling more than ever that those measures were necessary for those who could have them. I could just feel how integral and important those coping mechanisms were to having a positive birth experience.
To hear the midwife so bluntly state that she thought I might end up with a C section made me feel like it was pretty probable. She’s always been so straight forward with me, telling me not to worry about any of the little things I wanted to worry about. If she mentioned a concern or a recommendation, she had to really think they were a legitimate cause for concern. She told me she’d give me another dose of Cytotec, because it couldn’t hurt, and then from there, she’d pretty much hand me over to the care of the doctor, in preparation for her leaving. I’ll check in with you again before I go, she told me after administering the Cytotec (also an old hat by now), but at this point, it’s up to the doctor as to how she wants to proceed.
I accepted this. I hadn’t wanted a C section, but this induction started to felt wrong. I felt like I had lost steam, and that gut instinct that had been talking to me louder and louder over the last couple days got even louder now. Something started to warn me that this birth wasn’t going to end with a vaginal delivery. Some sort of warning bells were tinkling in my brain, and after I texted my birth team to let them know this latest development, I really started to mentally and emotionally prepare myself to probably face a C-section sometime that day.