We welcomed our son, Clark Addison on Tuesday, January 13th, 2015. The short version of the story is that he was born 2 1/2 weeks early due to gestational hypertension but everything was perfect in the end.
The long version follows below…
One thing I really enjoyed while pregnant was reading other women’s birth stories. No two experiences were the same, that’s for sure. I mentioned this a while back, but I didn’t have any specific birth plan. My birth plan was to “extract a live human baby and survive.” That was all. I felt like trying to plan for something I had no experience with and very little control over was lose-lose proposition. It would set me up for disappointment when all I really wanted was healthy baby, healthy mom. The way I see it, it’s like trying to say, “I’m going to plan to not get cancer when I get old.” You can’t plan that. All you can do is do the best you can right here, right now, and make sure you have the best care possible if and when the time comes.
Let’s rewind a few weeks back.
On Wednesday, January 7th, at my 36 week appointment at the Obstetrician, they noted my blood pressure had really spiked compared to prior weeks. This in and of itself is not that unusual because blood pressure typically goes up in the third trimester, but the fact that it had gone from 142/78 to 160/90 in a matter of one week was cause for concern. They sent in a second nurse to check it again, both arms this time. Not quite as bad, but still elevated. The OB came in and said, “We need to keep an eye on your blood pressure. If you have any symptoms of preeclampsia, call our office immediately – blurred vision, headache that won’t go away with Tylenol, increased swelling in hands and feet.” I heeded her warnings seriously, but didn’t really feel alarmed in any way.
On Monday, January 12th, I woke up for work feeling a bit off. I didn’t sleep well, but didn’t really think too much about it. I was hugely pregnant and uncomfortable, plus I snored and had really bad carpal tunnel in my hands (pain and numbness) and I had to get up to pee at least a few times in the night. Waking up feeling tired wasn’t that weird.
While I was getting ready for work, Jeff called me over to the bedroom window to look at the deer in the back yard. He said, “Look! There’s a bunch of them!” I said, “What deer?” He said, “The deer! Right there beyond the tree line.” I still couldn’t see the deer. It just all blended together in a green and brown blur of wintry woods. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I should have been able to see the deer without them anyway. That was my first clue things weren’t quite right. I thought it was a little odd that I couldn’t see the deer, but regardless, I got showered and dressed and made my way into work. I put on maternity work pants and sighed at the fact that even they didn’t really fit much anymore. My legs were swollen, my feet and ankles were swollen, my hands were swollen and my face was swollen. I was a sight.
I got to work and started working. All morning long, something just felt off. I’m not sure if you can actually feel what high blood pressure feels like but I felt like there was just a pressure in my body. I kept saying something just didn’t feel right. I emailed Jeff at work and told him I was going to go over to the grocery store at lunch time to test my blood pressure on the free machine at the pharmacy.
At lunch, I walked across the street to Harris Teeter in the freezing rain, found the blood pressure machine and hit the start button: 157/97 which was higher than it had ever been.
I decided to call the doctor. I got back to the office and called the doctor but it was during their lunch hour, so I got the voicemail. I had the option to call the off hours answering service, so I did and they said, “Can you just wait until 1pm? They’ll reopen the office after lunch.” It was 12:25. Ugh, fine I said. I called at 1:01pm, they said that their computers were down, but they’d give the doctor on call a note to call me as soon as possible. I quickly ate my pulled pork sandwich for lunch.
When I got back, my boss asked me, “How are your sausages doing?” (My feet and ankles). I showed him this:
His eyes widened. “Um I think that looks worse!” I told him how I’d been feeling off all day and how I’d gone to check my blood pressure and he agreed that I needed to go to the doctor.
By 2pm, I still hadn’t heard back from the doctor, so I called back again. They said, “Oh, sorry. Yeah, the doctor wants you to come into the office right now.” I packed up my work bag and got ready to leave. My boss said, “Wait – do you want to organize anything on your desk?” I said, “Nah, I’m sure I’ll be back.”
I got to the doctor’s office by about 2:30 and they brought me right back. They tested blood pressure, did a urine sample and a quick sonogram to make sure baby looked ok and he did. The doctor still didn’t like what she saw about my blood pressure, but there was only a trace amount of protein in my urine (which is a sign of preeclampsia.) Still, she told me to go ahead to the hospital for additional monitoring and blood work. She said, “I don’t mean to scare you, but over the last 5-10 years, studies show an increase in stillbirths in women with gestational hypertension where they ‘wait and see’ if it gets better. I’d rather send you to the hospital. You may want to stop home and get your hospital bag just in case. I’ve called ahead and they’re expecting you.”
I left the doctor’s office and called Jeff. I wasn’t sure whether or not to go home and get my haphazardly packed hospital bag or go right there, but since I was only about 15 minutes from home and the hospital was in the opposite direction, I decided to go home first. I grabbed my bag, walked and fed Callie and the cats, grabbed the carseat (I couldn’t possibly need it yet, right??) and headed to the hospital. Jeff left work and hopped in a cab to come meet me. (This same day, there was a horrific smoke incident at the L’Enfant metro station which would have likely affected Jeff’s metro route to the hospital … so thank goodness he took a cab.)
I got to the hospital around 4:45. They took me right back to room 2 and hooked me and the baby up to monitors. The nurse who did the intake asked me if I had a written birth plan. I said no. Just get the baby out safely.
By this point, it was just a lot of hanging around while they monitored the baby. I was 1cm dilated and having sporadic Braxton-Hicks contractions, but nothing major (I didn’t even know I was having them at first!) Jeff and I watched TV and hung around the room and texted and called friends and family to let them know what was going on.
Around 6 or 7 pm, the Obstetrician came in and did a cervical check – I had actually dilated another cm! She discussed the options that we had and she said that based upon my swelling and my BP, she felt it was best to induce labor the next day. She said that the risks of delivering a baby at 37 weeks + 3 days were lower than the risks of keeping me pregnant and risking my gestational hypertension turning into preeclampsia. After all, the only cure for gestational hypertension is to not be pregnant anymore.
Around 10pm, I got a dose of Cervadil which is a medicine that helps dilate the cervix. The induction was scheduled for 7:00am Tuesday morning and this would hopefully help things move along before the induction started. The labor & delivery nurse said, “you may want to eat something because once we start the induction in the morning, you can’t eat anything else.” Thank goodness she told me this because all I had eaten was my sandwich at lunch and a granola bar in the car on the way to the hospital. Unfortunately, by this hour, not much was open (including the hospital cafeteria) so we ordered from a local late-night sub shop near American University. At 1:30am, I had the most amazing chicken parm panini, It was SO huge and so, so delicious.
We both managed to fall asleep, but I started having contractions which kept me up. I probably only slept from 2am-3:30am. I was too excited! Tomorrow was baby day!
On Tuesday, at 7:30am after the shift change, the new Obstetrician came in and we started the Pitocin drip to start labor. It was a waiting game, but I started feeling contractions more frequently and more intensely, To be honest, they really weren’t bad. I was able to watch TV and joke and laugh in between contractions, so I knew I wasn’t in active labor yet. Plus my sister Claire had arrived and she makes all things fun.
Around 1pm, the OB decided that to move things along, she wanted to break my water. I was happy to continue to move things along so I agreed. She said that she expected the contractions to pick up after the water broke and they certainly did. The problem however, was that they weren’t regular in duration or intensity. Some were very close together, some were farther apart. Some were very intense, some were lower peaks with shallow valleys, however, they all started to get very uncomfortable. I asked for the TV to be turned off and for Jeff to put on the Dave Matthews station on Pandora on my phone while I tried to continually do relaxation breathing through the contractions. It was manageable, but definitely uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I was still only dilated 2-3 cm.
The nurses asked me if I wanted an epidural. I knew that if these contractions weren’t even the real deal and they were as uncomfortable as they were, I wanted an epidural. I have had reactions to other types of anesthetics (i.e. hives) in the past, so they brought the anesthesiologist in to discuss my reactions and make a decision whether or not it would be safe to have an epidural. Funny enough, I was able to have a conversation with her through the contractions that were very uncomfortable just moments earlier – a bit of distraction made them feel not quite as bad!
We decided to go ahead and go through with getting the epidural. Around 4pm, she came in and placed the epidural. I had no problem sitting up and sitting still during these contractions. After the epidural went in, everything started to feel numb and heavy and weird. The doctor told me that they would expect me to dilate at about a cm per hour so it would take another 6 hours, give or take, to get to where we were actually ready to push. OK I said. Sounds good. I couldn’t feel a thing. They gave me an oxygen mask to wear to keep both me and baby oxygenated and I was able to doze off.
Around 8 or 9pm, the next OB came back in and checked me. Turns out, my cervix hadn’t made any real progress and was holding steady at 4cm. Shortly thereafter, he said that since he started to notice the contractions affecting baby’s heart rate, (and since my birth plan was “get baby out safely”), he said it felt like we were headed toward a C-section. I was surprised to hear him say that (it felt so soon – it hadn’t even been 24 hours) but I was fine with it. I think I even said, “That’s fine, I don’t care.” Since it wasn’t an emergency scenario and he had another C-section to do first, we went back to sleep and waited another hour or so until the nurses came to get us.
Once they came in around 9:30, it was go time! I had to wake Jeff out of a deep sleep – “Jeff! Wake up! It’s baby time!!”
The nurses had us disconnected from the monitors and IVs and rolled me into the OR in a matter of minutes. We got prepped in the OR, Jeff got his scrubs on and his little rolling stool to sit on and they got ready to begin the surgery. The doctor told me, “You won’t feel anything but you will feel pulling and pressure. If you hear us chatting about vacations and stuff, don’t worry. That’s just us passing the time.” Part of me felt like, “What? You should be focused on what you’re doing! Not talking about vacations!” and the other part of me thought, “That’s good because if it was a crisis scenario, they most certainly wouldn’t be chatting about vacations.” It was oddly irritating and comforting at the same time.
I was nervous, but I just couldn’t wait to meet my baby boy so I was listening and waiting so closely. I remember it seeming like 20 minutes before they got to the point of actually pulling the baby out, but I’m sure it was much shorter than that. The doctor narrated some of the main points of the surgery and finally said, “Ok, lots of pressure here – we’re pulling him out.”
At 10:11pm, out he came! They swiftly brought over to the warming table to get him checked out.! All three of us cried immediately! Jeff told me after the fact he almost passed out. I looked over my right shoulder to see Clark the best I could – I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I had tears in my eyes, but I saw him wailing and crying and covered in milky white vernix. He had a funny conehead about which one of the nurses said “oh look at you – you were trying to come out!” since he was wedged down in my pelvis trying to make his way out.
We were so glad he was here, he was safe and he was healthy.
After the procedure was done and the doctor was stitching me up (which took another 15-20 minutes), I started to shiver dramatically and got very nauseated because of the anesthesia. I couldn’t hold the baby which was a bummer. I whispered to Jeff to tell the doctor that I felt like I was going to throw up and they gave him some sort of medical pan for me just in case. I kept gagging while Jeff held the pan next to my face. It was far from ideal.
Once they finished in the OR, they rolled us in back into the hospital room and one of the nurses gave the baby to me to hold. I was still was feeling terrible shivering and feeling nauseated but I wanted to hold my sweet newborn! I held him but I was so out of it. After just a few minutes of holding him, I said to Jeff again, “I think I’m going to throw up.” and the nurse called out “Don’t throw up on the baby!” and quickly swooped him out of my arms before I threw up on him. Lucky for Clark, I only threw up on myself.
Instead of giving me the baby back to hold, Jeff held him and showed him to me. I was shivering and gagging and was so, so thirsty. I kept trying to will myself to stop shivering, but it just didn’t work. After another hour so around 1am, I finally stopped shivering and was able to hold him as we got wheeled into the recovery room to spend our first night as a family of three.
So, is this quite what I expected childbirth to be like? No, not by a long shot. But all I cared about is that Clark is perfect and I’m recovering nicely. If you had asked me weeks ago when I predicted I would have him, I would have told you I expected him to go 40+ weeks. With a due date of January 31st, I thought for sure I’d still be pregnant come February 1st.
Instead, he was born 2 1/2 weeks before his due date and is perfect in every way.