It's been six months since Nell was born and I finally feel like sharing her birth story. I think getting it all out of my head into a post will end up being helpful for me but I was hesitant to share for a few reasons. One, I did not have a good birth experience. Two, I didn't realize that it wasn't good until it all hit me, along with PPD, a few weeks after Nell was born. And three, I've dealt with an immense feeling of guilt because technically, my birth experience wasn't "THAT bad" compared to others. I know that sounds absurd, but I have a lot of great friends that had far scarier experiences than I did (including life-threatening!) and they didn't get PPD - for some reason that made me feel deep disappointment in myself, and for a long time I questioned why I couldn't "handle it." Thankfully I had a GREAT team that jumped into action to treat my PPD and after getting on medication, starting (and continuing) therapy, and hiring help for Nell when first diagnosed so I could recover, I've finally accepted that PPD is a chemical imbalance and totally out of my control. I will share my PPD story and care plan later, but wanted to share why it's taken me a bit to share my story.
I worked from home my last two weeks before my due date as I live 45-minutes from the office and felt uncomfortable being that far from my doctors and family if I were to go into labor. Of course, I didn't (ha), so on Friday, February 9 (the date after my due date) my boss and I decided I'd be "done" barring anything critical and I closed my laptop at 5 pm and breathed a sigh of relief that work was finally wrapped up. We had dinner (I wasn't super hungry at this point as Nell was taking up so much room)! and my mom sat with me on the couch and did a few reflexology massage techniques she's known to stimulate labor. Around nine o'clock we called it a night and went upstairs to bed with Miles. C made up a bed on the couch downstairs as he was feeling a little stuffy and didn't want to get me sick.
At 9:30 I remember being squished in my pregnancy pillow with Miles (he insisted on sleeping IN the pillow with me at this point) and thinking that I had a weird feeling it'd be the last time I'd sleep at our house with just Miles and C. I quickly pushed it out of my head because I had really no reason to think that and tried to go to sleep. Around 10 pm I was suddenly slammed with really strong contractions. Because I'd always heard they started slow and then got more intense, I assumed it must be more of the bad round ligament pain I'd struggled with throughout pregnancy. Then I went to the bathroom and felt a rush of water. I sat there for a minute and smiled by myself once I realized this was it.
C and I had a deal that I'd tell him first if I went into labor so I crept downstairs and told him that it was time. He shot STRAIGHT UP on the couch and said "wait WHAT? are you serious?!" I laughed and said yes and he said "oh my god Meg, I just took two freaking Nyquil less than ten minutes ago." I thought it was hysterical, he did not haha.
I went upstairs to wake up my mom and C got everything in the car. My mom confirmed that it looked like my membranes had ruptured (having a nurse midwife as a mom is very, very helpful in these scenarios) and told me to call my doctor. They told me to head on in so we all got in the car and headed out. My contractions were 3:00-5:00 apart and extremely strong. I was shocked that they hurt so much and were coming so quickly. I remember thinking that women that do this natural should seriously be knighted or something but no way in HELL was I going to make it much longer. So much for my high pain tolerance :)
Once we got to the hospital they put me in a triage room (i.e. the worst place ever - you are 9+ mo. pregnant and lying on a stretcher, not a bed, and it's 400 degrees) and had me change into a gown. This is when it got "fun" (not) - the nurses were absolutely amazing but I was assigned to a resident that had absolutely zero compassion or bedside manner. In summary, we spent the next hour or two trying to figure out if my water had broken or not and trying to see how dilated I was. TMI but my cervix is SO HIGH that no less than four different doctors rotated in and out trying to find it. While I was contracting every three minutes. Translation: this. sucked. I cried. The same doctor then tried to send me home regardless of my contractions until Chris or my mom (I can't remember) realized that they'd NEVER EVEN TAKEN MY VITAL SIGNS. Minor detail, because once they did they realized that my blood pressure was through the roof. It was so high they thought the machine was broken and tried again. I know it sounds bad but I was relieved it was so high because they were forced to admit me. The mean doctor was visibly annoyed that she had to admit me. ((If I ever saw this doctor in real life I would be scared of what I'd say to her. Actually we all know I'd just meanmug her and say absolutely nothing at all but you know what I'm saying.)) At this point they wheeled me down to labor and delivery and passed me off to an absolute angel of a human being, a nurse named Jen. If I could grant the nurses that night saint status, I would. They were incredible. Thankfully, the mean doctor was off duty at midnight and I never saw her again.
The contractions were so strong at this point that I tried to walk to labor and delivery and actually couldn't, I had to take the wheelchair. I remember looking at the triage nurse and saying "I knew I was in labor!" and she said "yep, and you have been this whole time. I wasn't going to let them send you home." I don't remember her name but I am forever grateful to her for advocating so strongly for me.
Once I got settled in the room angel nurse Jen asked me what my pain management plan was. I quickly replied "my plan is to MANAGE IT. To be as painless as possible." She said "you know you can get an epidural right now, right?!" and I almost cried I was SO HAPPY. The anesthesiologist was in my room within 15 minutes which really surprised me and I was nearly pain-free within minutes. Absolute heaven. The nurse put a peanut ball between my knees to help rotate the baby or something and told me to get some rest. She also re-took my vital signs (my blood pressure had normalized ;) and I laughed when she took my temp because I told her I NEVER get a fever...famous last words. I remember asking her if I was for sure not leaving the hospital without a baby and she laughed and confirmed that yes, I was there to have a baby. After the drama in triage and the up and down of whether I'd be sent home or not, I was so relieved.
Poor C basically collapsed on the little fold-out bed; he'd been fighting Nyquil for a few hours now. My mom went to sleep in the chair and we just sort of slept on and off for a few hours. The doctors came in several times to check me (this will be important later) and still had trouble figuring out how far along I was. They also kept coming in to check Nell's heart rate - they could see her heart rate dropping every time I had a contraction but said they were just going to keep an eye on it (this will also be important later). Eventually they got a baseline for where I was in labor and I made slow but steady progress. At some point my water REALLY broke (apparently before it was a high leak) and it was a LOT more graphic than I expected - I legit thought it was just clear water, apparently it is not. I was psyched though because I hoped it would help move things along. My mom said women's brains experience labor one of two ways - they either think it went by a the flash or they feel like it took ages. I was definitely the former, I had no concept of time and I didn't think it was nearly as long as it was. At 7 am I know Jen's shift was over - I was devastated but she told me she'd made sure that her favorite nurse took over for her. Enter angel nurse #2, Aly. She got up to speed and I got checked again - I don't remember how far along I was but Nell had dropped REALLY low. The doctor said she'd never felt a baby so low without the mom being fully dilated. I finally started to feel like I was really going to have a baby soon and got excited. At this point, however, I noticed that my mom had started asking a lot of questions. She wanted to know why I didn't have a permanent catheter and why they were manually emptying my bladder. She started asking questions about Nell's heart rate strip and I saw the relief on her face when they said I'd made it to 6 cm or something. I didn't think much of it but learned later on why she was so concerned about those things.
In the late afternoon they decided they needed to attach a heart rate monitor to the top of Nell's head because they weren't comfortable with the external monitor and wanted a more accurate read. This meant actually going into the uterus and clipping a heart rate monitor to the top of her head. I'm still convinced this is why my girl was MAD when she finally came out!
Again, I don't have the best memory of time and the order of events but I know that this is when things started to get interesting. The doctors started coming in more frequently to check Nell's strip and they told me that they needed to put fake amniotic fluid BACK into my uterus. Essentially they thought that maybe the cord was wrapped around Nell's neck and whenever I was contracting, it was being pulled, causing her heart rate to drop. They thought if she was "floating" again it might resolve itself.
At this point my in-laws arrived at the hospital and brought C and my mom some much-needed food (I got a popsicle HA). They checked me again soon after that and gave us the good word that I was 10 cm and would be ready to push! I know it might sound weird to some people but I had invited both moms to be in the delivery room. This was for a few reasons - of course, mostly because we are very close with both of them, but also because I grew up around childbirth being a very open and normal thing and was thankful to have them both there. My mom is a nurse midwife as I mentioned, so I also wanted her there to advocate for me (which was so helpful). My mother-in-law is the mom of three boys - I would never expect anyone to be comfortable with their MIL in the delivery room so I was more than happy to give her the opportunity to see at least one grandchild be born. And to answer the question you're all wondering, yes, everyone stayed above my waist.
At this point the doctors got everything ready and the nurse told me it was time to start pushing. We dropped my epidural a bit so I could feel all of the contractions, which I appreciated because I felt more in control of exactly when to push. C was on one side, my mom had the other, and my MIL was keeping a cool washcloth on my face and giving me ice chips in between contractions. Everyone was calm and I started to feel like I was getting the hang of things and then... the doctor came in and told me I was going to "take a break" from pushing. I could tell immediately both moms knew something was up but I was tired and just tried to rest. This was pretty miserable as I had really bad back labor and the only way to make it feel better was to push. So I laid there secretly pushing against my back contractions waiting to hear what was going on.
And then shit kind of just hit the fan. It felt like out of nowhere I felt absolutely awful. Not "I'm in labor" awful but like a delirious, horrible, deep feeling that something was really wrong. At that point the doctor on call came in and sat down (never good) and told me we needed to talk about alternative methods of getting the baby out. Not only was Nell's heart rate continuing to struggle, but I suddenly had a very high fever (I should've never said that earlier!!) and they told me that because of my long labor (I was only hour 18 at this point) after my water had broken, my membranes had gotten infected and both me and Nell were at risk. In summary, it'd been too long since my water broke and all of the invasive things they'd had to do (emptying my bladder, clipping on the heart rate monitor, adding in the amniotic fluid) were all points of exposure that can lead to infection.
At this point I panicked internally. I kept saying that I felt awful and something wasn't right. They laid out my options - we could start by "trying" to vacuum her out, or we could move right to an emergency c-section. I told them to get her out, right now, and get me in for the c-section as soon as possible. I looked at my mom and she looked at the doctors and said "get the baby out." I was confused why the doctor kept asking me if I was sure so many times until she told me that some women really get distraught if they are told they can't deliver vaginally. Also, I was forgetting that they knew my mom was a midwife and probably assumed I had some super birth expectations. Once I gave them the official go, Nell's heart kept dropping on and off and things started moving incredibly fast. I was also feverish and barely remember most of this - I signed a lot of forms and mentally was praying anesthesia would get there as soon as possible as I was still secretly pushing against my back contractions.
C got suited up and we got to the OR and things were just moving so fast. I felt horribly anxious and honestly even remembering this enough to write about it is hard. One of my legs was totally numb from the epidural and I started really freaking out internally. I just wanted her out and I just wanted to feel better, now. I also forgot to mention that epidurals can make you shake uncontrollably. There is nothing more confusing then being drugged out of your mind and trying to understand how they can operate on someone that is shaking so hard. They got me on the table and told me to lay my arms out (like a scarecrow) on either side of me. I had NO IDEA that you had to lay like this for the entire surgery. I also didn't know I would hate it so much? C told me that at this point the doctors were asking him if he had a playlist preference and chatting about their weekends... it might sounds odd but it gave him a great sense of calm, like they do this so often and it's so fine and safe that they could talk about things like playlists and weekends while they prepped.
Then they started the surgery and all I can remember is thinking that I'd never hated anything more than this experience in my entire life. I don't know why but I physically could NOT keep my eyes open and nothing was making any sense. The only thoughts in my head were why I couldn't hear her cry yet and why I felt so awful. Thankfully C was so calm and asked them if we'd see her soon and they said yes. I could feel them rustling around inside my body and I just wanted it all to be over.
At some point they told us she was almost out and I looked at the nurse above me and told her I was going to throw up. Apparently that's totally normal, so Nell was born and I was barfing into a suction tube. This was the split second when I realized that while I hadn't thought I had any expectations about birth, I had 100% fully expected to be bowled over with love when I saw my baby for the first time. It was a gut-wrenching (literally, in my case) feeling of disappointment to be using every cell is my body just to keep my eyes open enough to see to her. Everything had moved so fast that C didn't even have his phone with him to take a picture but I'm kind of glad because he was fully present with our new baby. He told me that Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" was playing when she was handed to him and he just absolutely lost it. I remember feeling so relieved that she was here, and her eyes were WIDE open and she kept sticking her little tongue out and C asked if that was ok (it is) and I knew this was almost over. I hardly remember seeing her but I know they asked me if I wanted to do skin-to-skin and I just couldn't even understand how that was possible? Like my arms were strapped down and I was throwing up and the blue tarp thing was so close to my face it was basically in my mouth? I didn't understand but I know I felt disappointed because I knew I wasn't supposed to say no.
From this point on I really don't have any idea what was happening other than C had Nell and I just wanted them to put everything back together and get me OUT OF THAT OR. I don't know how long it took but I know C wheeled Nell out to meet her grandparents and eventually it WAS over and god bless the recovery nurse who basically barked at the c-section team that SHE IS NOT READY TO DO SKIN TO SKIN RIGHT NOW when they asked me again because she must have known whatever look was on my face. That nurse also gave me water for the first time in 20 hours and I will never again drink anything that tastes that good.
The other shining star of what felt like a disaster was my nurse Aly. Her shift was long over but she refused to leave until little baby Hall was born and seeing her blonde hair in my peripheral vision during surgery was so unbelievably calming that I'm actually crying while I sit here thinking about it. I care so much about my job, but some people in some jobs like Aly and Jen change people's lives every single day and I just hope they know that.
At this point C came back to see me and told me that the grandparents were just overjoyed but not to worry because he didn't tell them her name yet. This was the first time I remember laughing since everything went south - it was such a thoughtful "C thing to do" and I finally felt like everything would be alright. I told him to hurry out there and tell them her name already, the poor people had waited nine long months and I'd be right there!! He asked me 20 times if I was sure and off he went - I'm so glad he did because for a few minutes they got to call my grandma and her that Nell was named after her and she cried and that was so much better then worrying about everything else for just a minute.
They all waited for me in my room but of course I was just exhausted and once they laid eyes on me and made sure I was ok they went home to let me rest (well actually Mrs. Hall went back down to the nursery and demanded they show her "her baby" once more even though it wasn't visiting hours and that was the second time I laughed. Because if you knew Mrs. Hall you'd know she's the sweetest, smallest little lady but you DO NOT MESS WITH HER).
After I stopped shaking from all the drugs and started to come to my senses they asked me if I wanted to meet my baby and I was flooded with relief that I got another chance to really see her for the first time. They wheeled her in and I looked at her and kissed her velvet head and C just loved on his little family and I felt safe again. I still couldn't fully comprehend that she was here and she was mine and I had a daughter and I was mom but I did feel immediately like if anything ever happened to this tiny person I would die. Maybe that's not what anyone tells you you might feel when you meet your baby but it was what I felt and it felt a lot better then the "why can't I see her and why can't I feel ANYTHING?!" that I felt when I was in the OR.
I share all of this not to scare anyone but so that you know that it's normal. These feelings were not PPD related, and when I told my doctor the next day when she came to see me that I was scared because I didn't see fireworks and explode with emotion when she was first born she told me that most people don't, and that I just had my moment later and that's totally normal. This was the most calming thing anyone ever said to me during this whole ordeal and it also kept my head above water when I DID get PPD. "This is totally normal" played over and over again in my head for approximately the first two months of motherhood and she was right, it was always true.
So that is how Nell came into this world and that is how I became a mother. After lots of therapy I understand now that this was a traumatic experience, and while it might not be for someone else, it was for me, and it's important that I recognize that. It was a rocky start to motherhood, which I didn't expect and was really hard, which was hard for C, which was hard for both our families, but I was never, ever alone and I can't thank them enough for their support both that night and in those bleary early days. I'm a firm believer that experiences make you who you are and this is one very big, very important experience that forever changed my very being and gave me the gift of motherhood. If you asked me that night, or two days later, or even on my darkest day battling PPD, or even right now, if I'd do it all again to get my sweet Nell I would say YES. Before you even finished asking the question. And that's totally normal :)