It’s taken some time to process the last two weeks of our lives. I don’t know that I have fully grasped it all or if I ever will. I think I will be forever overwhelmed by the day we became parents.
After my doctor gave me the HELLP syndrome diagnosis, she calmly told us that it was time to have a baby. It feels like a lifetime ago that she said that but I know I cried. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way! The Pilot and my mom were both in the room, which was a comfort. She explained that while it was still early, it really was the best thing to protect both me and the baby. I knew in my heart that it was the right decision but my head was so conflicted.
We tried to keep calm despite the stress. Obviously we grew up in the 80s....
My doctor checked and much to everyone’s surprise, I was already 3 centimeters dilated. While I could have easily walked around at 3 cm for the next 5 weeks, it sort of made me feel like it was all meant to be; that our baby was supposed to arrive early and I instantly felt better about what was happening.
I was admitted to the labor and delivery floor of the hospital late on Sunday, July 14, 2013. An IV was started and they gave me magnesium sulfate for the HELLP syndrome (my understanding is that it is a muscle relaxer that would help protect me from having a seizure) and Pitocin to induce labor. As they got the IV started, my doctor checked on me one more time before leaving for the night. I was told I would need a catheter but I didn’t understand why at the time so that was when I asked my doctor if I’d be able to walk around. When she told me no, I cried for the second time that night.
I was hoping for a natural birth, with as little medical intervention as necessary. I’m also a realist and knew that this was something I had never experienced. I didn’t naively go into childbirth thinking that I could handle it without pain medication. The Pilot and I researched all of the options, read up on ways to naturally deal with pain but also learned about the different medicinal options I would have once in the hospital. I wanted to go in with an open mind. I would try a natural birth, but if that wasn’t in the cards, then I would let it go and accept it. As long as the outcome was a healthy baby, then the “how” he got here wouldn’t matter.
So when the doctor told me that due to the magnesium sulfate I was on, I would be in bed from then until 24 hours after delivery, I was naturally upset. I was a fall risk (since it is a muscle relaxer), had to be continuously monitored because my blood pressure was going up, plus they were keeping a close watch on the baby’s vitals also. Part of dealing with childbirth naturally is walking around. It’s bouncing on a stability ball. It’s doing everything except lying on your back in a hospital bed. The Pilot was the one who had to step in to explain to the doctor and nurses in the room why I was upset. I’m sure I was sitting there crying with a look of panic on my face. Again, this was not how I envisioned my baby’s arrival. But I had to roll with it.
I asked that I at least be told when I was approaching the “point of no return” when it came to making a decision about an epidural. I really wanted to labor as long as possible without any pain medication. The only reason I was even still considering an epidural-free delivery at this point was that I had a break in the chest pain. They had given me something high strength for acid reflux that seemed to ease the pain in my chest a little. My doctor then hit me with the next blow. Because of the HELLP Syndrome, my platelet count was low. My liver wasn’t functioning correctly. Both were working against me. You cannot receive an epidural if your platelets are too low. Basically, if I waited on an epidural, there would be a chance my platelets would be too low and it wouldn’t be an option any more. The decision would be made for me. No epidural. My doctor also warned that if my platelets dropped and I ended up needing a c-section, I would have to go under general anesthesia. Meaning I wouldn’t be awake for the birth of my baby. That was NOT an option for me.
They let me think that over for a little while. And in that short time, the pain in my chest returned worse than ever. It felt like I couldn’t breathe it hurt so badly. I’m not kidding when I say I thought my heart was just going to stop.
Around 2:30 am on Monday, July 15, the resident OB broke my water. Thirty minutes later I opted for the epidural. Not for labor pain but for the chest pain. The resident assured me that an epidural was still an option and that it would help with the chest pain. I knew I had a long night of labor ahead of me plus I would need the energy to actually deliver. So in went the epidural. The chest pain was gone within 15 minutes. And I was able to rest. Clearly that was the best decision given the circumstances.
I tried to sleep but my head was racing, thinking of all the things that hadn’t been done yet at home. I was supposed to have a couple more weeks to prepare! While I had a couple baby showers and we had a lot of the basics, there were still things we needed. I also hadn’t fully prepped the people who would be filling in for me at work. The Pilot was sleeping on a couch in my hospital room and I didn’t want to wake him up(he hadn’t gotten much sleep recently either), so I finally asked the nurse for a piece of paper and a pen. It was probably 4 am. I told her I needed to make a list or I’d be awake all night. So I made a list…and then got a little sleep.
The resident checked my progress a couple times during the early morning hours, and I was moving right along. Faster than I thought! I kind of panicked when they said I was 8 centimeters. It was about this same time that I started to feel the contractions. The epidural was wearing off and the contractions were getting stronger. Part of me was glad that I was feeling something so at least I would know when to push. And of course the other part of me wanted more drugs because the pain was returning!
Not too long after that my doctor returned. I was 9 centimeters. Say what? The pain was definitely increasing to the point I couldn’t talk through the contractions. I had to close my eyes, hold The Pilot’s hand and focus. I didn’t need to be told when the contractions were coming but at some point the nurse or doctor started talking me through each one and gave me the option to do some practice pushes. That’s all it took to get to the full 10 centimeters. It was business time.
The Pilot stood right next to my head and counted to ten, three times for each contraction. In between the contractions I was able to lay back and relax a little (after the doctor reminded me to relax!). It seemed like time stood still yet moved so fast at the same time. I felt like I was only pushing for a couple minutes when my doctor told me to open my eyes; that the baby was almost there. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t ready. I needed more time! But I opened my eyes and in that instant, she placed my baby boy on my stomach. I didn’t even know just how “almost there” I was! I knew the pain went through the roof but I didn’t realize that it was because the baby was well on his way out. It was like an out of body experience. I was there but not really. Luckily instinct kicked in and I grabbed my baby and pulled him closer to me. I started crying and I can remember feeling overwhelmed and in love…yet also like I was watching a TV show. It was like it was happening to someone else. I later found out that that feeling was most likely the result of the magnesium. The longer I was on it, the foggier my brain became.
My doctor had warned us before I started pushing that it might be a little scary when the NICU team arrived in the room. She explained there would probably be 5-6 people all working to prepare for the baby’s arrival but that it was standard for the early babies. To tell you the truth, I barely noticed when they arrived. I was already focused on getting through each contraction and pushing that I didn’t notice just how many people were in the room. The Pilot commented later that it was a little scary.
I was only able to hold my baby for a minute before the NICU team took him and started working on him in the room. Little man came out kicking and screaming but because he was early, he needed a little help. From my understanding, they gave him some oxygen, but not much and it wasn’t under pressure. I was pretty fuzzy during this time, partially because of the magnesium and partially because I was still in shock of what had happened and how fast it happened. I had only been in labor for 5 hours. I had only been pushing for 20 minutes.
The Pilot hadn’t left my side and it was my doctor who told him to go meet his baby. He walked over and stayed with the baby while my doctor tended to me. A few minutes later, they brought Megatron over to me, a little more cleaned up, with a hat on and wrapped in a blanket. I was able to look at him and kiss him just for a moment before they took him to the NICU. As they left the room, it felt like my heart was on the outside of my body and was being rolled away from me. In my fuzzy, exhausted state, I suddenly became a mom and the worrying started. And I know it won’t end until I leave this Earth.
I had to consult with the The Pilot about what happened after that. It all got really fuzzy. While my symptoms from the HELLP Syndrome continued to go away after delivery, the magnesium sulfate made it very difficult to stay alert. I do remember commenting to my doctor that labor took less time than it takes me to do a full marathon so I was having a hard time deciding which was more challenging. I also threw out there that because he was early, I’d have an extra month to prepare for what I’m eyeing as my “comeback” race. Trust me though, this was all said as a joke. I wasn’t seriously thinking about my “comeback” while my doctor was doing some repair work. Humor is how I deal with stress.
Once the NICU team was ready to roll, they had The Pilot follow them so he would know where they were taking him. I guess my parents were pacing right outside my room and were able to see Megatron as the rolled him down the hall. I don’t remember how long The Pilot was gone but he came back and told me that he looked great and that he would be able to go back to check on him once they got Megatron all set up in the NICU.
I’ve been through some pretty rough challenges in my life but the 24 hours after Megatron’s arrival was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced. Because I wasn’t able to get out of bed, I wasn’t able to see Megatron. Since he was in the NICU, they couldn’t bring him to me and I couldn’t go to him. It was excruciating. I took comfort in knowing that The Pilot was able to go down to check on him as often as he wanted, but I wanted to see my baby. Again, this wasn’t what I had envisioned for my baby’s first day! The Pilot took lots of pictures and video and would come back to my room to share them with me. I cried every single time. My family and The Pilot’s parents all came and all took turns visiting the NICU with The Pilot (Only 2 people were allowed in at a time and one had to be a parent). I was jealous that everyone else was getting to see the baby and I couldn’t.
It also didn’t help that I felt pretty awful. The longer I was on the magnesium, the more fuzzy my brain seemed to be. People were coming and going and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I wanted so badly to look at the pictures on The Pilot’s camera over and over but my eyes wouldn’t stay open.
Twenty four hours after delivery, I was taken off the magnesium and was released from the labor and delivery floor to the post-partum floor. Before taking me to my room though, I was finally able to see Megatron. I can’t even begin to describe what that moment felt like. I had waited for what felt like an eternity to see him. It was also scary because he was in an isolette, hooked up to all kinds of wires and had blue lights shining on him because he had developed jaundice. He was doing really well, it just looked worse than it was. Even knowing that though, I wasn’t prepared for seeing him like that.
Our little glow worm
I think this picture says everything I was feeling in that moment.
Over the next two days in the hospital, both Megatron and I regained some strength. The evening of his second day, he was released from the NICU to the normal nursery, which was a huge relief for us. He was still under the lights for his jaundice but other than that, he wasn’t hooked up to anything. We were able to keep him in our room on our third day, which became the first day we spent together as a family. It was looking like I would be released later that night, and we began to worry that we would have to leave him behind in the hospital. The hospital staff continued to monitor Megatron’s jaundice, and eventually decided that he could be released as well.
We gathered our belongings (which seemed to multiply while we were in the hospital) and The Pilot got a head start out to the car while Megatron and I were loaded into a giant plastic cart. It was part cart and part wheelchair. We hitched a ride and a patient aid rolled us down to the front entrance where The Pilot was waiting. On the ride from the post-partum floor down to the lobby, lots of people stared, some asked how old he was and there were a few “congrats.” We were quite the spectacle. And the entire time I was thinking “these strangers better not try to touch my baby!” Ahhh yes, the paranoia begins!