I always wanted to be like Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett may have been brash and bold and confident but Melly was blessed with true grace and dignity. I don't often succeed on the inside but I have learned through the years to at least project a bit of her outward calm.
In a not at all Melly like way, my competitive spirit wanted to get through the birth of my child and be able to say "I had a baby and it hurt but I didn't yell at my husband and the people around me. AND I did it without drugs, thank you very much." of course that would be the interior dialog. Inwardly I may have been smug but outwardly I would project an air of sweetness and graciousness. At least that's the dream.
When the midwife you trust tells you that you really have to think about a date for induction it jerks you up. "What if I can't do this? What if the pitocin makes the pain so bad I freak out? What if the pitocin makes the pain so bad I do have to have drugs? How'm I supposed to be the gracious lady if I'm a doped up, shrieking shrew?" I also felt quite a bit like I had run the entire race and then faltered at the end.
So I steadied my shoulders and girded my loins and gritted my teeth and decided I could be okay with being induced and even though pitocin makes labor harder I was going to still try my damnedest to Melly my way through it.
Saturday was a strange day. I went to work for a few hours but packed it in before 11 because I was not feeling well. I went home, napped, got a few things ready, went to pay the rent, went for pizza with the family and then headed to the hospital. And it was all so jerky but oddly connected.
At the hospital they started me on Sitotaxin(sic?) A drug that thins out the cervix so labor can progress. Three doses and 12 hours later I'm maybe 75% effaced but the nurse needs someone with longer fingers to check me. ("I'm gonna go find someone with longer fingers." seemed to be a running gag throughout my labor.)
Maybe pregnancy is not the time to give yourself a stress test on dignity and grace. Pregnancy is an extreme test of your dignity as is. You are introduced to so many new, wonderful concepts and products that not keeling over from embarrassment is a huge accomplishment in and of itself . Think Poise Pads and Tucks wipes and exams that involve removing the lower half of your clothing. There's an infinite amount of peeing in cups and being tested for diseases and masses of people sharing way too much personal information with you. If you go to birthing classes you will be told you may lose control of your bladder or bowels or both during labor. That contractions can make you vomit and that in some instances the urge to push can also bring on uncontrollable gas. And what they don't tell you is that sometimes your cervix is so far back that the first nurse will need to go find someone with longer fingers to find it.
But I knew I could do it. I knew if I just focused on staying in character and remembering that a bad attitude wasn't going to make the process any easier, that I would be crowned the Queen of Baby Making 2008.
They found a nurse with longer fingers and just to make sure, Mary Beth's back up OB. So Karl got to wake up to a stranger giving his wife an internal exam. Talk about a test of grace. Karl handled all of my exams with a degree of dignity that I find amazing. However up until that point they had all been performed by women. To wake up and find a strange man performing this task and not react badly? Incredible and I love him for it.
They started pitocin shortly after 9 am and my sisters showed up soon after. Very mild contractions had started but it wasn't too bad so far.
It was good to have my family there. I had been worried that they might be a distraction in a bad way but in reality they made me feel safe and loved. They managed to be themselves without being overwhelming and they let me and Karl do what we needed to do to try and have this baby.
Mary Beth was supposed to be there at 11:30 am and to the shock and amazement of my sisters (but not me) she showed up at 11:28 am. She checked me which caused my water to break. I was progressing. Very slowly but still progressing. Then she stayed and talked to us. For at least an hour, maybe more. I think my sisters are a teeny bit jealous that they didn't have a midwife and I can't blame them. Once you explain to everyone that you are not having the baby at home you just want someone who realises pregnancy is a natural process and not a disease, they think they get it. Then they meet her and they really get it. When Mary Beth said I needed to be induced I knew it was true. I also knew she let me go as long as I really could have. We weren't aiming for March 2 because it was convenient for her but because the baby and I were still in good shape and stood a better chance if we did it then rather than waiting for something that most likely wasn't going to happen.
I walked around. I sat on a birthing ball. I'd lie on my left side. The contractions slowly got more intense but never terrible. Then Mary Beth asked if it would be okay to do an internal monitor. I was okay with it because I knew all the moving about was making it hard to keep an eye on the baby and internal monitoring was a considerably more accurate way to judge the strength of my contractions. Except that it didn't quite work. No matter how hard I tried not to tense the monitor refused to go into place and my God it hurt so much. I held onto Karl's hand and tried to brave my way through the pain but finally Mary Beth gave up. The experience left me shaking in pain and scared of what was coming. At the same time though I was glad I had made it through without howling or snapping or even crying.
So I walked more and rocked more and squished away on the birthing ball more and Karl and I "danced" our way through a series of very intense one right after the other contractions. Mary Beth decided to try for the monitor again and even though it was excruciating and my cervix was still being uncooperative she managed to get both monitors placed this time.
Once again the experience left me shaking and now I was on the verge of exhaustion. All I wanted was a nap. I decided to lie on my left side for the next series of contractions because I knew my legs were not going to support me.
After about 6 hours of being exposed to Pitocin your nerve receptors become flooded. There's not much point in continuing it so Mary Beth had them turn off the Pitocin drip.
I held Karl's hand and actually managed to doze between contractions that is until I opened my eyes and realised the only person left in the room was Karl. I'd been asleep for 45 minutes. This made me feel just a little panicky. You are not supposed to be able to sleep while you are in labor. No sirree, Bob. Mary Beth came back to say she was leaving the hospital for a little bit but she'd be back to check on me. The pitocin was restarted and then they told me what my heart already expected. If Mary Beth came back and there was no significant progression then I was probably going to have a c-section.
If you take how much I didn't want to be induced and multiply it by a million you might be close to how much I did not want to have a c-section. I am terrified of having surgery. My last experience with surgery was so distressing that talking about it five years later can bring tears to my eyes. Plus talk about running the race and faltering at the end, hell I wasn't gonna even be allowed to finish the race.
So I cried. And after the nurse left I cried some more. Then Karl and I walked and rocked and swayed and prayed to the baby in an effort to make some progress. But the contractions never really got that strong and I knew that the curse of having a midwife you trust is that if she tells you that you need to have a c-section, you're going to know it's the truth and you won't have a valid argument against it. But I prayed so hard for just a centimeter more, for more intense contractions, for more time to please, please, please come out little baby.
Then it was 6:30 and in an incredibly not at all like an OB Mary Beth showed up exactly when she said she would. She checked me and said exactly what I knew she would and few other things. No progression and the baby was so high up that the head hadn't molded at all. Which means that the baby is probably too big to get out that way. I tried not to but I cried again. So much for grace and dignity. Miss Melly would have handled it all so much better. Mary Beth gave us some time to talk. I tried to put it into perspective but the whole time I was praying for something radical and miraculous to happen. What happened is my beautiful, wonderful husband told me he'd let me keep trying as long as I wanted to and that helped me to make an uneasy peace with the idea. Then my sisters came back in and told me I was brave and it was good and we were going to have the baby soon.
This is the bad part because right here I was surrounded by the people who love me the most and I felt so completely and utterly bleak and alone. I had failed to do what just comes naturally and now they were coming to take my child. All I would be able to do is lie there and be numb while other people did my labor for me. No one else seemed to see the sadness in this and how could I take their excitement from them? So I tried to be brave on the outside and maybe I was.
I told Mary Beth it was very important to me that when the baby was born that I needed someone to say (and that I would prefer it to be her) "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" rather than some other thing "Like you have a son/daughter". I explained about not saying "I do" at our wedding and Mary Beth agreed to announce the baby's birth the old fashioned way.
Then it was Karl and me and the nurses and a whirl of activity. They helped Karl dress for the surgery and began prepping me.
First they removed the internal contraction monitor. That came out a lot easier than it went in. Then they removed the internal fetal monitor...No, wait, they needed to get someone with longer fingers...or someone else with longer fingers still. Or maybe they need someone to be a little more persistent or ow, ow, ow, ow! How many frickin' people are gonna get to know me so intimately in such a short span of time? I believe it took six of them to finally remove the monitor and that hurt even more than putting it in did. But hey, they did tell me how great Piece of Cake is whilst they were exploring my nether regions.
Next they scrubbed my tummy with antiseptic, then they went to shave me. The razor died immediately so they had to have another sent down. Want to know a real test of grace and dignity? After they shave prep you for surgery they take a loop of tape and pat you down like a blazer covered in cat hair. I just had to laugh. (A bit hysterically.) All the prep work seemed so frantic and emergent, everyone racing towards the goal and I so desperately wanted it to be calmer. I wanted more time to grieve, more time to come to terms. Instead I am racing down a hallway past my family and there is barely enough time to tell my mother I love her.
Thank God Karl was there. We had to part briefly to get the spinal placed but as soon that was taken care of he could rejoin me.
Except...they were scrubbing my tummy and it burned. That's not supposed to happen...
Hmmmmm...a little more medication? I can still feel it when they pinch.
Okay last bit we can safely give you. Does that hurt? Maybe...
If it doesn't kick in we're gonna put you to sleep.
Noooooooooooo, I need my husband, please don't put me to sleep!
Then boom!!! I was fully numb. They were cutting open my belly and dragging my husband in from the waiting area. He stood by my head and held onto my hand and I was as close to peace as I could be.
Having surgery while you are conscious is an incredibly bizarre sensation. You can't feel the pain but you can feel what's happening. If you've ever seen a c-section, you can also vividly imagine what's happening. I mentioned how weird it felt and the anaesthesiologist said it freaks a lot of women out. It wasn't until he said that I realised I'd been about to panic. I managed to summon just a little bit of MH and pull myself together.
Then...oh then, I felt them take the baby from my womb and a moment later she was screaming and someone said "It's a girl!" I was so startled by this information that all I could think was "Really? I had no idea!" (So much for all the people who said deep down I knew.)
They held this stunning creature up for me to see and my heart exploded and my life completely reformed itself into her shape. As much as I loved her when she was inside me was nothing compared to the tidal wave that consumed me now.
I thought she looked just like my brother Patrick and I knew she was the most beautiful thing I was ever going to see in my life.
They took her off to do those first baby bit things while they poked and prodded and sewed me shut.
Things get very hazy here (morphine) but I did get to nurse her in the recovery room. It confirmed just how amazing she is. I also got to watch my husband falling deeper and deeper into love with her which in turn made me love him more.
Apparently my family spent about an hour with us after she was born. I don't remember this at all. In my memory everyone came in briefly, told me she was beautiful and left. However there are pictures that prove me wrong.
I wanted to go into labor on my own. I wanted to have her without drugs. I did not want to have a c-section. I wanted those things but I always said none of it really mattered as long as there was a baby at the end. I was astounded at how emotionally painful losing those things really is.
Everyone tells me that it's okay, they say I was brave and strong but what I really want is commiseration. I want someone to admit that it sucks. I feel like a failure, I feel betrayed by my own cervix and I feel selfish for mourning a process when the outcome was my wonderful Chloe.
So I grieve the loss of my labor though I realise that others have deeper pain. I am sorry but I am, no matter my aspirations, me. Melly Hamilton with her amazing strength and grace will always be just a little beyond my reach.
Writing about this was extremely painful and often made me cry. However anytime my daughter was about she would cheer me up so much I would have to stop writing and come Thank God for Chloe.