Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Greta’s Birth Story
My C-section was scheduled for 7:30am on Thursday, October 27. Andrew got to the hospital at 5:00am, and we sat on my hospital bed, whispering while we waited in the dark, trying not to wake my roommate. I’d gotten an IV for hydration the night before and was wearing a hospital gown for the first time since checking in on October 2. After what seemed like a long wait, I was wheeled down to triage, where I’d wait for the surgery, Andrew following behind with my suitcase.
We waited in triage for a long time. I got a second IV—the worst-case-scenario IV, inserted so they’d be ready for anything in the OR. The surgery was changed to 8:00, then 8:30, as the various anesthesiologists and doctors tried to get coordinated. Finally, my doctor came in, wearing scrubs and a plastic mask over her face. “We’re walking,” she announced, and took my IV bag down from its hook. We walked down the hall to the OR. Andrew began putting on his surgical outfit while my doctor took me inside.
It was a real OR—huge bright lights, steel instruments laid out on tables, lots of equipment I of course couldn’t identify. I sat down on a table and got my spinal, which was uncomfortable but not unbearable. Then I was laid down and transferred to the operating table, and my lower half was hidden by a sheet. My legs got tingly and my doctor started pinching my abdomen, asking if I could feel it. I was sure I could feel everything, and kept saying so, terrified that I was somehow resistant to the anesthesia. But eventually my answers clearly weren’t aligning with what was happening, and they deemed the surgery ready to start. Andrew came in then, and it all began.
For some reason I had it in my head that, recovery aside, a C-section would be easy—you get drugged up, you lay down, and the next thing you know, your baby’s crying. I had no idea whatsoever that I’d feel every single step from the incision through the suturing, even if that “feeling” wasn’t painful. I’d been warned that I’d feel “pressure”—but this was more than pressure. I felt like someone had rammed their hands into my body cavity, and I felt every tug, pull, and push. It felt horrible, like something from a nightmare. My doctor tried to engage me in small talk to calm me, but I still groaned in horror now and then, and at one point she said if I didn’t stop they’d have to put me under. “You are not feeling pain,” she said. It was true, and I tried to focus on Andrew’s face and the fact that this would eventually come to an end.
Eventually it was time for the baby to come out, and there were some moments of my doctor speaking sharply to whoever was attending her, someone pushing powerfully onto my upper abdomen. The baby would not come out. She somehow positioned in such a way that her head was trapped. The moment didn’t last long, and suddenly I heard the gasping squall of an infant. She was finally here. She was taken over to a warming table and evaluated; her Apgar scores were 8 and 9. A few moments later, Andrew could go over to take pictures.
I got to see her for a brief few seconds when the pediatrician brought her over to me, but that was all. Andrew was then told he had to leave and wait in the waiting room while I was sewn up and moved to another table, leaving behind all the bloody pads and gowns from the surgery. Then I went to the recovery room, where I was hooked up to lots of electrodes and blood-pressure monitors and, blessedly, an IV drip of pain medicine. The baby was brought in to me, and Andrew joined me there shortly. I was able to nurse her despite being little more than a tangle of wires and IV tubes, and then she had to go to the nursery. Andrew went with her while I rested.
After a few hours, it was time to move to the post-partum room where we’d be for the rest of our stay. Andrew went to the nursery and retrieved Greta in her little hospital bassinet, bathed and calm. We were lucky enough to get a private room, which required only that we get onto a waiting list as soon as Greta was born and fork over her first year’s college tuition. No matter. It was such a relief after three weeks in the hospital and a morning of surgery to be wheeled into the closest thing to a hotel room a hospital room can be. There were warm lamps, a soft couch, a mini fridge full of juices, waters, and sodas, a large flat-screen TV, and a nicely tiled bathroom.
For the rest of that day, and the next couple of days, we really felt rested and nurtured and well. Mom and Lucia visited Thursday afternoon, and Lucia kissed Greta and then came into the bed with me, gentle and calm; I told her she had to sit quietly since Mama hurt, and every so often she’d say “Mama hurt” and give me a kiss. We read a few books together, and then they left. Andrew went back Friday and Saturday night to be with Lucia for bath and bedtime.
Thursday night, we decided to send Greta to the nursery so we could both get some sleep; we ended up sending her Friday and Saturday nights as well. I never thought I’d be okay with this, but it really worked out for the best. I desperately needed sleep, and we still saw Greta for much of the night, whenever a nurse brought her in for a feeding. In the morning, my IV was detached from its drips, my catheter was taken out, and, later in the day, my scary just-in-case IV was taken out as well. This felt like a huge milestone.
Friday and Saturday were just strangely restful periods of watching Greta sleep, feeding her, and relaxing. Saturday we had a crazy snowstorm, and it was so strange to be watching the snow fall from the window, as though we were having a little vacation. I ordered my meals from a leather-bound menu, and the food was actually really good, brought in to me on a white-clothed table. Real food was welcome after my “clear liquids” diet of broth and sorbet on Thursday.
Greta wanted to do nothing but sleep, even falling asleep when nursing; the pediatrician showed us how to effectively rouse her, which pretty much entailed unswaddling her and then letting her roll around in her bassinet, furious, until she was fully awake. This felt cruel, but it worked, and before we left the hospital she’d gained back 2 of the 7 ounces she’d lost after birth, which the pediatrician said was excellent.
Don’t get me wrong: though these days were calm and restful, the recovery was anything but easy. I got out of bed for the first time Friday morning, supported by my wonderful nurse Gigi, and promptly fainted (fortunately not before Andrew slid a chair under me). Walking felt impossible, like a lovely, distant dream, and I eagerly anticipated each dose of Percocet. Saturday, Gigi helped me take a shower, and I actually managed to do some walking up and down the hallways. Each day got easier.
What got more difficult was breastfeeding—not because Greta wouldn’t latch; she latched immediately and well; but because I became engorged very quickly. This is the one thing I’d hoped to avoid this time around, after my experience of Extreme Dolly Parton after Lucia’s birth. Beginning on Friday, I started noticing a familiar hardness and ballooning, but when I told the nurses I feared I was getting engorged, they said I wasn’t. Even the doctor I saw Friday morning said my milk wouldn’t come in for three or four days. By Saturday, the engorgement was out of control. My nurse even brought in another nurse, and they gazed at me, aghast. I tried pumping, but nothing would come out. Sigh. Exactly the same as last time. Andrew brought me a cabbage, which we soaked in ice water, and this brought some relief; but still. Between the engorgement and the painful first days of recovery, it’s pretty remarkable that I felt in as good spirits as I did.
Sunday morning, Greta and I were both examined and discharged. I was wheeled down to the lobby, and then, once Andrew brought the car around, I got my first breaths of fresh air in four weeks. As we drove home, everything looked sharper and brighter than I remembered, as though I were in some kind of fever dream, or had been in one. When we got home, Lucia kissed the baby and wanted to hold her. She couldn’t have been sweeter. Greta slept all day and then found her voice and was up pretty much all of Sunday night.
I spent my birthday (Saturday) in the hospital this year, celebrating with Percocet and vitals-checking and industrial-sized maxipads instead of a cake, but really it did feel like we had something to celebrate. We’re back in Infantland. I’m out of the hospital. My pregnancy is over. Greta and I are home safe and sound. Greta’s birth story was a long, stressful, and winding one, but it fades a little more with each of her tiny, darting glances and each of her kitten-like cries.