Thursday, December 1, 2011

Elizabeth's emergency C-section

Elizabeth shares her daughter Vivian's birth by C-section:

I had a rather nightmarish time in labor and delivery with my first pregnancy. Practically the first thing that happened to me when I checked into the hospital was that an anesthesiologist made me sit down so he could run me through the informed consent forms for epidural anesthesia (which I was pretty sure I didn't want when everything started). After the forty-five minutes of sitting, listening, and pausing for contractions that it took to get through those, I had had enough. I asked for the epidural, and it was the greatest thing going until I started pushing, when it developed a window that couldn't be closed, no matter what we tried. I pushed for five hours, running a fever and convulsing through contractions when I tried to rest, before the OB got out the vacuum equipment and we managed to deliver my son. And then I hemorrhaged, and needed stitches. I was immensely grateful to the OBs and nurses who were so patient with my prolonged pushing stage, as I was terrified to have a c-section, but when my husband and I decided to have a second child, I informed him that I'd prefer a homebirth, and began researching midwives. The day I got a positive pregnancy test, I started making calls.

Two days after that, I stopped. I had spoken to three midwives. One turned out to be a hundred miles from us. One was planning a vacation for around my due date. The third was available, and kindly advised me to avoid crossing my legs for the remainder of my pregnancy, and be sure to keep my knees below the level of my pelvis at all times to prevent the baby from turning breech. With no good alternatives, I scheduled an appointment with my old OB.

Unfortunately, a week after that appointment I began to miscarry. We'd lost our baby. But six weeks later, when I was pregnant again, it occurred to me that I'd gotten some options back - the nice, local midwife would be available around my new due date! I scheduled an interview, at which I learned that she was not licensed, did not work with an OB as backup, and that the emergency transfer plan if my birth went wrong would be to go to the nearest ER. More research dug up a fourth home birth midwife, a Christian Scientist who would not prescribe or administer Rhogam. I gave up on home birth, and found a hospital-based practice of CNMs instead.

When I explained my prior delivery, these midwives encouraged me to go for a "healing" natural birth. Pregnancy made me depressed and anxious, but I increasingly found peace and reassurance in the image of the perfect birth in my head. I would deliver this baby calmly and easily, preferably in the jacuzzi tub of one of this hospital's birthing suites. My husband would hold my hands and rub my shoulders while a midwife assured me we were doing beautifully, and the baby would float gently out of my body and into my arms.

I don't like jacuzzis all that much, and I usually want to get out of the bath before my hands start to wrinkle up. My husband gets nervous and twitchy around hospitals, doctors, and laboring women. The last time I'd been in unmedicated labor, I had cussed through every contraction. But four CNMs and a psychotherapist encouraged me in this fantasy.

When I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa at my mid-pregnancy ultrasound, they assured me that the condition usually went away, and I could keep planning an unmedicated birth. When I wound up in the ER for bleeding at 26 weeks, they sent me home with instructions about pelvic rest and told me not to worry. I would still have my natural birth. When I came back to the ER for more bleeding at 29 weeks, and was hospitalized for a week, they continued to reassure me. The problem would go away. We didn't need to discuss the possibility of c-section yet. I was home on strict bed rest, but I would still have a natural birth.

At 32w3d, I felt a gush of warm fluid between my legs, and got out of bed to see if I was bleeding again. When I stood up, more fluid gushed down my leg and splashed on the floor - it was definitely blood. I waddled to the bathroom and got a maxi pad, which overflowed about a minute after I put it on. I woke my husband and told him to call 911. The next hour or so is kind of blurry. I unlocked the front door. I grabbed a bag. At the 911 dispatcher's instruction, I lay down on my side by the door to wait for the ambulance. It took them twenty minutes to get there, and then we realized that my husband couldn't come with me. He needed to wait for the babysitter who was coming to stay with our son. At the last moment before we headed out, I realized I needed to know where we were going. The hospital I'd planned to deliver at was not the closest appropriate facility, and probably wasn't an appropriate facility at all - when I'd come in with bleeding at 29 weeks, they'd had to transfer me to a hospital with a level III NICU. We agreed that we'd go to that hospital again, and the EMTs helped me into the truck.

The EMTs didn't seem to have any idea what placenta previa was. They wanted to do a quick pelvic exam to be sure I wasn't having the baby right away, but once they got a good enough look at my pants to realize that they hadn't started out dark red, they decided that their best course of action was to drive.

I was the last person to realize I was going to have a c-section that night. My husband figured it out while waiting for the sitter. My mother realized it as soon as he called her to say I was bleeding again. The hospital started prepping for it when the EMTs radioed that they were bringing me in. I don't know what I thought would happen at the hospital. That they'd give me a magic shot and hang me up by my ankles? I didn't realize I was having the dreaded c-section until midnight, when a surgeon who I thought looked like Hawkeye Pierce told me that the OR would be ready in a few minutes. (At my six week follow-up, I discovered that the surgeon looking absolutely nothing like Alan Alda. I was shocked.)

The surgery I'd feared turned out to be an incredibly peaceful experience for me. My husband had a harder time with it, but they didn't hook him up to a drip with morphine. The anesthesiologist was soothing, the nurses were sympathetic, the surgeons tempered their professionalism with the occasional dry joke and just enough small talk that I was confident that nothing was going wrong. At one in the morning (I made it to 32w4d by a hair), we heard our daughter cry for the first time. The nurses cleaned her, and wrapped her in a blanket before bringing her to our side of the blue curtain. My husband held her where I could kiss her cheek for a moment before they took her to the NICU. I sent him with her, and lay back to think about names and be sutured back up. The assisting surgeon told me that she was taking the time to do a double layer of sutures, so I'd have the best possible chance of a VBAC later if I wanted. I was tempted to tell her she could fasten me back up with staples and carpenter's glue for all I cared. I was done having babies (I'm still feeling done).

My mother was waiting for me in the recovery room, where the anesthesiologist gave me drugs to stop the post-morphine itching. I was wide awake, and I wanted nothing more than to see my daughter. My mom gave me the report from the NICU, and we chatted until I was declared de-drugged enough to move to the post-partum ward. Before we went there, they took my gurney up to the NICU floor, and parked it by my daughter's isolette for a few minutes. My energy was fading, but I was so glad to see her.

I went home from the hospital four days later, and Vivian spent 32 days in the NICU. She needed three doses of lung surfactant to get through her first day, but was considered a "feeder-grower" by the end of her first week. She's been incredibly healthy ever since. She's now a few days from her second birthday, sweet, smart, and too fast moving to take a picture of. The attached photo is of her first "outing" from her isolette.

Thank you so much for running your site. It's such a valuable voice and resource for the way that women usually give birth in this country, and a testament to the work of mothers and the medical professionals who aid them through labor.