The relative calm didn’t last long. Mommy started to have break-through pain after a couple hours. The nurses got approval to up her epidural several times, but even at max dosage, she was in tears. I didn’t know what to do, and looking back on that time I feel terribly guilty for not being a better advocate for my wife. The nurses kept questioning whether she was feeling pain or “just” pressure. My precious wife, through tears, was having to convince these people that she knew the difference between pain and pressure and that she was most certainly in pain. They said that her epidural was maxed out and that the anesthesiologist had gone for the day and the next one hadn’t arrived yet. (At this point I’m questioning our decision to deliver in the smaller hospital. We chose the smaller hospital, because they advocated rooming-in and would only take your baby from the room if you requested. They would help as much as you needed, but only if you asked. We wanted to spend the first few days caring for our own newborn, having him sleep in our room, and basically not leaving our sight.) The nurses assured us that when the anesthesiologist did arrive, they would have him check the epidural. In the meantime, they decided to do internal monitoring so that they could have a more accurate reading of the contractions. I felt lost and in WAY over my head. I just wanted to make the pain stop. I wanted my wife to have a break. I kept thinking that if this just wasn’t non-stop…if she could just have time to rest…I wanted to help, but instead I just felt like a helpless spectator.
Around 3PM, before the anesthesiologist had come in, Little Man’s heart rate showed a decel that stayed down a little too long for comfort. Two nurses rushed into the room and immediately called the doctor. Mommy was put on oxygen and turned on her side, and the Pit0cin drip was slowed. Little Man’s heart rate came back up and stayed steady. The doctor talked with us, and we all agreed that it was in everyone’s best interest to continue as planned and try for vaginal delivery. She believed the fact that Little Man’s heartrate had recovered with minimal intervention, and that he tolerated a subsequent exam where she literally rubbed his head, strongly indicated that vaginal delivery would be possible. Our OB had been highly recommended, and we’d grown to really like her, and more importantly, to trust her. We were following her lead. Mommy was dilated to 5 cms now but continued to labor in pain.
During the next few hours, the OB, and one nurse in particular stayed in our room almost constantly. They were Mommy’s cheering section, and they helped me find a voice to support her through the pain. Despite the boost, I started to wonder how much longer Mommy could take this. She would go from crying to uncontrolled shaking to a look of pure determination back to crying… Over the next several hours, they increased the Pit0cin drip back to the max dosage in small increments. Little Man tolerated this, but Mommy was miserable, and I felt sick watching her struggle. Eventually our cheering section left to deal with other issues, and we were left to deal with the pain alone again.
Around 7PM, Mommy said she couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I asked the nursing staff to get the doctor. The doctor examined her and she was 6cms dilated. To hear anything less than complete made me feel totally defeated. How can someone work so hard for a measly centimeter? At that time, they finally got another anesthesiologist to come in and evaluate pain management. He noted that her epidural dose was more than twice what they normally administer, and she was still in obvious pain. He said that there must be something wrong with the placement and decided to do a new epidural. While he was still taping up the new catheter, Mommy fell asleep sitting up in the hunched over position required to place the epidural. She actually started snoring. For some reason, the first epidural had stopped working shortly after it was placed, and as soon as this one kicked in, the exhaustion overtook her, and she fell asleep. My wife had labored through Pit0cin contractions for 11 hours at that point. She had only had a working epidural for about 2 of those and had been on a full dose of Pit0cin for most of them. I felt like I had completely failed. Wasn’t my most important job to be her advocate? Why hadn’t I insisted that they do something about her pain sooner? As soon as the anesthesiologist finished the procedure and they laid Mommy back down in the bed (about 50 minutes total from the time the doctor said Mommy was 6 cms), the doctor checked her again, and she was at 9 cms. The OB said that most likely, the change in position and finally being able to relax had helped Mommy progress more in those 50 minutes than she had in hours.
Just after 9PM (25 hours since the induction began, 13 hours since Pit0cin was started), Mommy was finally fully dilated and effaced. The doctor had Mommy try a practice push to see if the epidural needed to be turned down, but we would wait for Little Man to get into better position (ie: lower in the birth canal) on his own before really starting to push. At this point the OB reminded us about the meconium she’d seen in the amniotic fluid. She reassured us that everything should be fine but not to worry if we didn’t hear Little Man cry right away. They would want to suction him really well before stimulating him too much. The meconium had fallen off my list of concerns somewhere along the way. Now, it was back front and center. I tried to trust the doctor’s reassurance and help my wife focus on the finish line. It wouldn’t be long now, and I didn’t want her to know how worried I was. I think really that’s the theme of my entire experience – feeling some of the strongest emotions of my life and trying to protect my best friend from knowing just how terrified, scared, exhausted, and lost I felt.
Just before midnight, Mommy started to feel more pressure. So, the RN called for the doctor. She arrived, and just after 12:30PM on Wednesday, and told us that it was indeed time to push. On the first contraction, Mommy got in three pushes. I was feeling so proud of her for the strength she’d found somewhere deep inside and so anxious to see Little Man enter this world. On the next contraction, Mommy pushed, and Little Man’s heartrate plummeted into the 60 and 70s. This is the moment when things started to go crazy, and I lost all concept of time. The doctor told the nurses to give Mommy oxygen and for Mommy to get on her side. This time, that didn’t work, and now I saw the concern and urgency wash across everyone in the room. I felt sick. The doctor quickly explained that Little Man was still too high up in the birth canal to use the vacuum or foreceps. They would be taking Mommy in for an emergency c-section. There was no time to prep me for the OR. If Little Man’s heartrate stabilized once they got in the OR, they would send someone out to get me ready. I followed them to the red line on the floor in front of the OR doors and watched until they disappeared from sight. No one came back out to get me.
I backed up against the wall and stood staring at those doors. I listened and waited and prayed and hoped to hear my son cry. I willed my wife to be strong in there alone. I cried. I haven’t talked much about my mom (Granny) being present during labor, because she very much stayed on the sidelines. She was there if we needed anything, but wanted this experience to belong to us. She barely spoke unless it was to ask if she could get us something. This is when I realized she was there and was so grateful for her presence as I slumped into her arms. Later on, while we were still standing outside those OR doors, I would get short with her. She was worried about me, and I got upset with her for even thinking about me when all thoughts should be with my wife and son. In that moment, I felt like it was totally inappropriate for anyone to be concerned about me, but looking back, I don’t know how I would’ve done it without her. I should probably tell her that…
I didn’t let myself cry for long. I was too busy listening for anything coming out of the OR. I couldn’t see anything or hear anything except for the stream of people who kept coming onto the L&D floor rushing into that OR where they had my wife and son. No one could tell me anything. The longer I waited, the more I knew that it had to be bad. I ran through so many scenarios in my head. Would they get him out in time? Would he be okay? Would he have permanent damage? What if things went wrong? What if Mommy was having complications? What if I lost them both? How would I go on? What if I lost my beloved wife, but my son made it? Would they let me take custody or would I have to fight to take him home?
I waited for what seemed like an eternity outside the OR. Finally, one of the nurses, as she passed me to retrieve something to take back into the OR said that they were both “going to be fine”. So they’re not fine now? What does that mean? Why is this taking so long? Of course, I couldn’t actually articulate any of these questions, and she definitely didn’t have time to answer any of them. I knew they were both alive and “going to be fine”, and I cried out of relief.
Finally, Little Man was wheeled out of the OR in an isolette and into the nursery where he was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I was terrified, and I didn’t know whether to run to his side or stand back and let them continue to work. The neonatologist (one of the many medical professionals I had seen paged into the room after the surgery had already begun) called me over and explained to me that Little Man had swallowed and inhaled meconium. They said that his bowel movement had occured in utero days ago, because his umbilical cord, finger nails, toe nails, etc were all stained. He was barely breathing at birth and had to be intubated. His initial APGARs were only 3 and 4 out of 10. However, the team was able to stabilize and extubate him before bringing him out to the nursery. He told me to stay there with my son, and the nurses made a spot for me beside him so that they could continue to work, but I could be there too.
I looked down at him. His face was swollen and bruised. He looked like he’d gone into the ring with a professional boxer. He was under a hood for oxygen support and was very pale. He did have a head full of hair and his Mommy’s nose, the best I could tell. The nurse reassured me that I could touch him. I reached out and ran my finger down his chest. His chest was soft and warm but was retracting deeply as he struggled with each breath, and I cried some more. I no longer had any control over my emotions. I was so relieved that he was okay, and at the same time, I was wondering why they hadn’t brought my wife back to the room yet. I walked out to see if there was any news on her progress but no one could tell me anything.
I went back to Little Man’s bedside, and as I walked up to him, I softly said “Hey, buddy…” He turned his head in my direction, and I looked into his eyes, and lost it all over again. I felt like he knew me from all those months spent reading and talking to him while he was in his Mommy’s belly. He recognized my voice, and he knew I was there. I don’t know how long I stood there talking to him. I felt like just knowing I was there might be comforting to him. Not being able to scoop him up and hold him was agonizing. So was knowing that he and his Mommy had missed out on those first precious moments of bonding that we’d envisioned. While at his side, I watched as he endured needle sticks, suction, and gastric lavage among other things. I wanted to take it all on for him, but again, I found myself feeling like a helpless spectator.
I reluctantly left his side to check on my wife again. His doctor stopped me as I did to explain that he would be transferred to another hospital where they were better equipped to care for him. I was told that he would most likely develop pneumonia, and he was immediately started on IV antibiotics to ward off infection. They expected him to make a full recovery with no lasting effects though. Finding no update on Mommy, I went back to be with Little Man.
Finally, Mommy was wheeled back to her room. The OB came into the nursery to talk to me. She explained that Mommy had required multiple meds to stabilize and that she had “significant blood loss” during surgery because her uterus wouldn’t contract. I would later hear them actually use the term “hemorrhaged”. I left the nursery to go see her. She was so pale and heavily medicated. She kept asking me if I could put Little Man to her breast so that he could nurse. She was scared she would drop him but wanted him to be able to breastfeed. She also wanted to make sure I got to hold him first. She didn’t utter a single word of concern for herself. Her only worries were for us, and I was in awe of her and more in love with her than ever. This is my wife, selfless to the core.
No one had explained to Mommy how traumatic the birth had actually been for Little Man. Even if they had, due to all the medication, she couldn’t remember for more than just a few minutes at a time. Having to explain to her again and again that we couldn’t hold him, and he couldn’t nurse was killing me. Every time I had to tell her, she was heartbroken. I was the messenger that was breaking her heart over and over.
I was back and forth between my semi-conscious wife and our newborn son until about 4AM when Little Man was finally prepped for transfer. I told the transfer team that even if Mommy might not remember it, I wanted him wheeled to her bedside before they left with him. They were happy to do that. This would be the first time Little Man and Mommy would meet on the outside. They raised the isolette above the level of Mommy’s bed, and wheeled Little Man as close to her as possible, and she reached for him. He wrapped his little hand around her finger. Mommy asked me to take a picture of the two of them before he left. This snapped me out of my pinpoint focus long enough to realize that she and I weren’t the only ones in the room crying. We finally had our family, and they were both “going to be” okay.
As the transfer team left with Little Man, I encouraged my wife to give in to sleep. I planned to head the 7 miles or so to the hospital where our son was transferred as soon as they called to say he was settled. However, once Mommy fell asleep, the full weight of exhaustion and a sense of bewilderment hit me. I knew that I shouldn’t be driving, and the nurse that had been part of his transport team would be with him all night and had promised to call at the slightest change in his status. I made my uncomfortable bed and cried myself to sleep.
Writing this part has really drained me, especially since I tried to really remember just what I was feeling and to be as honest as possible. I want to do some more reflection and summarize the blur that was the next week or so of our lives. I’ll do that in my next post. For now I leave you knowing that my wife and son both made full recoveries, and we’re loving our life with a sweet, talkative (in his own language, of course), funny, and more mobile every day eight-month-old. ♥