Birth Story Tango

If you follow us on social media or read our last post, you know by now that last Thursday morning we welcomed our son, Pax Wilder earthside in typically dramatic Danielle fashion. Pax's pregnancy and birth and every minute since has been the complete opposite of Theory's, and so we decided to put a new spin on the usual birth story post. Behold the Birth Story Tango, an account of both of my children's birth, alternating paragraph by paragraph [Theory's in italics, Pax's unitalicized], to illustrate just how different they were. After all, it takes two [kids] to tango.

My pregnancy with Theory was 41 weeks of nail-biting, blistering agony. At six weeks on the nose I became nothing more than a breathing manifestation of nausea as hyperemesis gravidarum overtook me and wrecked havoc on this strange new body of mine from the moment I woke up until I managed to fall asleep at night, and lingered until she was born, never letting up even for a second; at times so overwhelming I once puked more or less on a pharmacy tech at WalMart as I scream-cried for her to please hurry and give me my Diclegis fortheloveofgod.

Pax’s pregnancy was as different from Theory’s as possible. I puked a total of three times, and aside from crippling fatigue, I had no issues at all throughout the entirety. I grew much larger much faster, and by 34 weeks had already surpassed my 41-week size with Theory.

I began dilating at 29 weeks and was put on bed-rest, wherein I hobbled around my house at 6cm for months on end with lightning crotch as my primary companion and a super-salty husband who spent his free time totaling the missed wages this little girl was already costing us. Once we were safely to 37 weeks, my mom and I started using every trick in the book to get this show on the road: labor cookies, walking miles a day, eating more pineapple than I ever care to again, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, castor oil, on and on forever. Sam even helped in that…special…way the internet will tell you they should [perhaps an elaborate long-con by sex-deprived daddies-to-be, now that I think of it]. I had my membranes stripped not one, not two, but three times and felt nary a Braxton Hicks in reward. My due date faded into the distance as we rounded the 40-week corner and I cursed my cervix in disbelief: how could it hold anything in at all, being 6cm for so long? The nerve! At my 41-week appointment, on a Thursday, my OB matter-of-factly told me it was time to schedule an induction. I went home and cried bitter tears, waved farewell to my dream of a “natural” childbirth [despite being completely unprepared and never bothering to take any sort of class or even tour Labor + Delivery], then scheduled my date with Pitocin for first thing Monday morning.

Exhausted and knowing I wouldn’t get any less tired, by my 39-week appointment on November 29, at 4cm dilated, I practically begged my OB to strip my membranes. The nurses had hyped up his “amazing” track record, but after my experience with Theory, I remained staunchly convinced I had a cervix of steel. Skeptical until the unbearable pressure of a very –ahem- thorough membrane sweep made my stomach jump into my throat at 1:30, my mom and I spent the next three hours hanging close to the hospital I was slated to deliver at, an hour away from my house, just in case. At 4:40 we started the drive home, and I squeezed the seatbelt around my bulging middle, quietly disappointed and wondering when I’d be meeting my son.

That night, feeling sad and sorry for myself, my husband and I decided to make one last-ditch effort at getting our little girl to come on her own. Awkwardly, as quietly as possible, only two doors down from my mom [sorry, Mom!], puffy-eyed, red-faced me closed my eyes and hoped against hope that the thing that had gotten Theory in there would get her out. It was 10:30pm.

Twenty minutes into the ride home, at 5pm, the first contraction gently rolled through my body. It was soft, whispery: a shadow of that first contraction with Theory. Ten minutes later, another. Just as unassuming. I convinced myself my doctor’s cervical assault had spurred some Braxton Hicks, and my mom began ranting about how of course I would go into labor when we’re almost home in earnest.

The first contraction hit instantly, hard and scorching, like a fire roiling through my abdomen, and so did the second, which came…three and a half minutes later. Oh shit. We sat around looking at each other, slack-jawed, for half an hour, counting minutes, counting the cresting waves of pain until ten had filled the space of those 30 minutes and we realized perhaps we’d better head to the hospital.

Sam arrived home from work at 5:45 and the whispery contractions continued ten minutes apart, but no more intense, all the way through dinner, then dropped to eight minutes, then seven. They were so consistent you could’ve set a watch by them. My dad shooed Sam, my mom and I out the door as I worried in silence that we were going to drive all the way to the hospital only to be sent back home and waste everyone’s night; these contractions were too faint to be the real thing.

The hospital was five minutes away from our house: a quick romp down the interstate while Sam laughed as I mooed and mewed and tried to breathe through the pain that I just couldn’t get in front of; each time I caught my breath another crippling contraction swept through my body, an aluminum can being crushed under a foot. Even before we had parked, I thought of my birth plan, of that drug-free birth I had been imagining, and chuckled. Yeah…f*** that.

Twenty minutes into the drive it became clear that we would not be getting sent home, and with each contraction, which were now only 4-5 minutes apart, I became more convinced we wouldn’t make it to the hospital. I watched the minutes to arrival tick down on my husband’s GPS in dread, moaning as each new wave tightened my abdomen, still not painful but growing in strength, amplified, no doubt, by my anxiety.

By the time we were admitted at 11, I had already requested an epidural and happily hunched over as the World’s Most Amazing Anesthesiologist, quick and precise, marked my back. Carried by just the thought of the relief to come, I jokingly asked him if it made him nervous that his job consisted of trying not to paralyze women in the throes of labor. “I try not to think about”, he replied, almost sounding a little nervous, “especially while I’m pushing a needle into their spines.” Whoops.

We arrived at the hospital at 8, got checked into triage, and when I gave my urine sample I noticed the bloody show. My mom nodded knowingly when I told her, but, still jaded from losing and subsequently re-growing my mucus plug three separate times with Theory and feeling as if I was out of the woods now that we were safely at the hospital, doubt began to creep back in and I worried aloud that we’d be returning home that night.

My mom, Sam, and I settled into the delivery room, me joking and happy as the epidural coursed through my body, doing its work. You will never meet a more jovial catheterized 8cm dilated woman than I, so long as I have a heavy dose of numbing medication pulsing its way into my spinal column.

Sam, my mom and I, the three birthing musketeers, joked as we waited for the OB, a doctor who was not my own, but whom I had seen before and liked, to come in and check me. When he did, I was 6cm and counting, and he officially admitted us. Despite the fact that my contractions were only 4 minutes apart, they were still only mildly uncomfortable, and I started to let myself believe I could make it through labor without drugs. I spent the next hour bouncing on a birthing ball, laughing with my birth posse and fretting aloud that my contractions didn’t “hurt enough”. I felt as if I were waiting for the other shoe to drop, and boy, did it.

A nurse turned the lights off, flipped me onto my side, shoved a pillow between my knees, and instructed me to rest. I couldn’t believe how easy this was. Sam stretched out on the couch and quickly fell asleep. I was exhausted; I had been up since 5am [third trimester insomnia was, and remains to this day, my arch-nemesis] and it was nearing 3 now, but my body was filled with adrenaline. I closed my eyes but sleep didn’t come.

I hit 7cm and the transition slammed into my body at the same time a tidal wave of blood covered my legs and the bed under me. It was a lot of blood, more than I was comfortable with, and the pain, which had been languishing comfortably around a 3 on the trusty hospital pain scale, rocketed up to an 8, then a 9, in the span of two contractions. My nurse assured me it was just my bloody show, and despite the fact I was certain I had already been visited by that particular Ghost of Labors Present, I didn’t argue; my mental game was shaken by the amount of blood and I tried to take her assurances at face value to bring my anxiety level down.

A loud pop!, amplified by the fetal monitoring equipment, was thunderous in the tiny room. My eyes flew open and Sam startled awake. I quipped something petty about how nice it was of him to join us back in Labor Land, and, having some vague sense of being wet, reached down to find the bed soaked. I hit the call button, and when the nurse answered, I sputtered, “Uhh..I think my water just broke?”

The blood kept coming, and the pain grew worse at a rate I couldn’t wrap my head around. I kept reminding myself that there had to be a ceiling, some insurmountable threshold, to the pain, above which it couldn’t go, and with each contraction I told myself this was it; I had reached the pain ceiling and it wouldn’t get any worse…but then it did. Even now, only a week later, I can’t begin to conjure up the memories of that feeling because it’s actually unimaginable. Impossible to remember because in the moment the enormity of it was completely inconceivable. Every fiber of my body felt it was being ripped, and with each contraction a surge of blood poured out of me. The nurse finally began to get nervous and checked me again. 9 ½ centimeters. I couldn’t sit still, couldn’t breathe, just kept screaming snippets of garbled language, pleading with the universe to let this be it, let me be done. I watched the blood pool on the floor around my feet, felt vaguely embarrassed, apologized to the nurse, and, tears flooding my eyes, asked for an epidural.

It was, apparently, Go Time.

The problematic thing about getting an epidural at 9 ½ centimeters dilated is that time is of the essence, and you are already so far gone that the world feels like it’s closing in around you. The anesthesiologist hurried in, my mom was pushed out of the room, and I dug my nails into Sam’s sweater and kept mewling the pathetic little words I could manage. “Please”, “no”, “ow”, on repeat. The first needle went into my spine and hit bone. So did the second. Finally, at the base of my spine, the doctor hit paydirt. It had taken a little more than 30 minutes to find the sweet spot, and as contractions came 2 minutes apart I was convinced I would die with an old, unfriendly woman repeatedly shanking my spinal column with a needle.

At nearly 5 am, my OB put in her first appearance, and Sam and my mom each grabbed a leg while I commanded that neither of them look down there. I was fixated on following the instructions of the nurses, struggling to push through my abdomen while pulling my legs to my chin and also keeping my elbows in. The exhaustion had set in, bone-deep now, and I wondered if it was possible to fall asleep while pushing. Quietly, my doctor made one slice, then another: an episiotomy I had told her I did not want [and would curse for years to come] but was too deeply concerned with my lackluster pushing abilities to protest. I was contrite, wondering aloud if I was accomplishing anything at all. Keep going!, everyone yelled at me, crowding out my apologies, she’s almost here!

The medicine began flowing and…nothing. I still felt every gut-wrenching second, every warm gush of blood. The medicine was turned up again. And again. Four more dosage increases and another thirty minutes crawled by and I kept screaming, less hysterical and more defeated now, until I couldn’t feel anything below my rib cage. As the drugs flooded my system, the world that had moments before been catapulted into stark contrast, each sense heightened and hue amplified by the pain, dulled, stretching and tilting, leached of its color. My head ached and my brain felt fuzzy, faraway. Bile rose in my throat and I was barely able to eke out the words to let my nurse know that something felt off. Monitors began to beep as my blood pressure dipped dangerously low; a shot of epinephrine brought me back and I closed my eyes, grateful for sweet relief. Blissfully numb, I barely noticed when the nurse excused herself to talk to the doctor, ushered my mom back into the room, and left me to rest before the hard part [a laugh, after the preceding hours] started.

We see her head!, one nurse cried. Does she have hair?! I wailed as I kept pushing through my damn ass, worrying simultaneously about all that castor oil I had drank earlier in the evening and picturing her father’s bald head. I was assured that she did, and, bolstered, gave one more push.

Twenty minutes later, several nurses and the doctor came in, reporting that Pax’s heart rate was fluctuating and he needed to be born now. It had been determined that the blood was likely a result of placental abruption. Without much discussion, just a feeble “okay, if that’s what Pax needs” from me, my membranes were ruptured. I didn’t feel the flood of fluid that filled the bed, only saw the chopstick-like instrument as the doctor pulled it for between my legs. It was time to start pushing. Except [of course there’s an “except”- have you learned nothing yet?] after ten minutes, it became abundantly clear that I couldn’t. The massive dose of epidural left me completely ignorant of what my body was doing, unable to control or will it to do my bidding. “Bear down like you’re pooping!” The nurses quipped helpfully. How? I thought in despair, I don’t even know where my ass is!

Theory Adler was born at 5:18 am on April 17, 2015, weighing 6 lbs 15 oz and 21 inches long and blew our world apart. Some masked, faceless attendant flopped her onto my chest where I sputtered a greeting, completely shocked by the advent of this thing I had been waiting for for so long, bewildered and unsure what to say or do next. So I did the only thing that came to mind: Did I poop?! I demanded of a nurse who was watching the doctor stitch me back together. I am proud to report that, in fact, I did not.

The vacuum extractor was brought out, pulled instantly from some magical hideaway like it had been waiting, primed for this very moment. I winced: another intervention I hadn’t planned, hadn’t wanted for my son. I “pushed”. It sucked. I bled. I heard a murmur about how he was upside down, a hushed comment about a tear. I tried to help, tried to bear down, but just heard the sickening wet squishing of the vacuum as it went about its work. Then, between contractions, I heard a pop, then a whoosh and felt that familiar emptiness. I paused, holding my breath, and heard the first garbled cry. Throwing up [my] blood and sporting a garish purple vacuum bruise on his forehead but otherwise perfect, Pax Wilder exploded [somewhat too literally] onto the scene at 2:54 am on November 30, weighing 6 lbs 15 oz [the same birth weight as his older sister] and measuring 20 inches long, a gorgeous potato-headed reminder that life is messy and ugly and bloody and never goes quite according to plan, but the ends justify the means [unless the means include forgoing an epidural, in which case: sorry kid, you’re just gonna have to stay in there forever].

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