Do you guys remember that sweet, innocent time in my life when I had faith in my body to do hard things and had a "wait and see" plan when it came to pain medication during labor?
Internet, I would not lie to you. Labor was the most miserable and painful experience of my life. OF MY LIFE. I don't know whether to blame pitocin or whether to blame back labor or whether to blame my apparently weak body, but you guys, there were moments when I honestly, truly believed that if what I was feeling DID NOT STOP, I would die. I would die a thousand deaths.
But first I'd throw up. Because I did, three times.
The resident came in a couple times to perform a cervix check because I guess labor isn't bad enough without a woman shoving her entire forearm into your very vulnerable lady bits that are working very hard to explode right from your body, but there you have it. I screamed. I screamed bloody murder and actually begged her to stop. I've never pleaded in such a desperate way in my life. In fact, I recently found out my doctor will once again check my cervix at my six-week follow-up appointment, and I'm already considering fleeing the country.
So, spoiler alert: I GOT THE EPIDURAL.
All you smug bastards who poo-poo'd my initial desires to give my body a shot to do the thing on its own, go ahead and gloat. It's fine. I'll accept it.
So labor and delivery. Room 8. There we were. The pitocin drip started sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., the Packers were whomping the Bears in Thursday night football, at some point around midnight my parents made their way to Milwaukee, and the four of us sat and waited while times (and pain) were still mellow.
Contractions ruined that mellow pretty quickly. They began innocently enough. Sort of like an intense cramp or terrible constipation pain. But soon enough, I was writhing in pain, desperate for relief that continued to not come, wishing I could disappear from my body, from that room, and from the experience. I made my parents leave any time it got awful or if I threw up or if the goddamn resident came back to shove her fist straight through my contracting uterus.
I cried. I yelled. I writhed. I cried more. I hated it so much. Todd did so well, standing by, doing everything in his limited power to comfort me. But I'd be lying if there weren't a moment or two when my face was shoved into the pillow to muffle my cries that I legitimately believed death to be the only relief. And if the pain didn't end, THAT WAS THE ONLY OPTION.
When I first considered the epidural, I hadn't progressed much in labor quite yet. For some (god awful and unknown) reason, I chose to wait just a bit. Just a bit turned into after 3 a.m. and nearing the point of no return, so we called the anesthesiologist while I continued to writhe and vomit.
Here's the thing about epidurals -- they TERRIFIED ME. In childbirth class we passed around the catheter and watched a video of a woman receiving one. The thought of that needle and that process makes me want to throw up. Still. So while I writhed in pain, I also began to panic. I knew I'd need to stay still during the procedure, and at that point, stillness was impossible. I couldn't stop feeling sick and feeling pain.
But I did it. Marc, the anesthesiologist (bless him forever and ever, amen), showed up, I kept my eyes (and mind) shut, and with some sort of miracle of miracles, remained 100 percent still while he inserted a needle, then catheter, then sweet, sweet liquid relief into my spine.
HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS.
THE SWEET RELIEF.
I will never forget lying there while every ounce of pain melted away. I smiled. I actually smiled. I wasn't even smiling at anything in particular, it was as though my entire body lost all control and all it could do was smile and THANK EVERYTHING ON EARTH THAT I COULD NO LONGER FEEL PAIN.
The anesthesiologist joked that he walks in the room for ten minutes and by the time he's done, most mothers end up wanting to name their child after him solely for taking away the pain. We laughed, ha ha, but I make no apologies if I secretly slipped "Marc" onto the birth certificate.
I didn't. BUT I WOULD.
With epidural in place, I got to relax for an hour. RELAX. There is such thing as relaxing in labor, it turns out. But by 5 a.m., my doctor showed up, gloves on, ready to go.
It was time.
My parents returned to the waiting room, where they'd wait to meet their grandson, and I spent the next hour and 17 minutes doing the hard work and feeling nothing. Epidurals, man. AMAZING.
Though I was repeatedly told by the medical professionals stationed directly outside my angry privates that I was doing a great job, Owen still wasn't doing a great job making his way out. His head (large and full of smart brains) was a bit lodged and facing the wrong way (the cause of back labor). She tried a few times to rotate him with her own hands (thank you, epidural), but after an hour of effort, it was time to get him out.
I feel like had I not been exhausted from 24 hours of no sleep, hardly any food since late morning the previous day, and physical pain and effort, I'd have been more panicked when shit got real at this point. There was so much going on in the room. My doctor and her medical student doing the gory work, Todd encouraging me in my right ear, nurses standing by, the NICU team awaiting. It felt very... loud. Not literally, but mentally.
With each contraction, Owen's heart rate began to dip. My doctor opted to use the vacuum to get him out quickly. She had two chances, and after a second unsuccessful attempt, I'd have to be whisked away for a C-section (please no, please no, please no). Apparently the first attempt was unsuccessful. I didn't even know. Todd did. He also knew my doctor grabbed the scissors and did The Other Thing I Did Not Want: an episiotomy.
THANK YOU, EPIDURAL.
Look, I'm not mad it happened. At that point I wanted my baby out quickly and safely, and if that meant sacrificing the wellbeing of my vagina, well, PRETTY SURE IT WAS TOO LATE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT NOW, HUH?
But in the next blur of seconds and pushing and mental chaos, I heard Todd say it:
"He's out! We're parents. He's here."
And he was. Todd cried. I cried. And I glanced down for just a second as I watched doctors whisk away my baby. He was crying, too.
The following ten minutes remain a mess of feelings in my head. I cried a guttural kind of cry I didn't know I possessed. I was fine. I was happy. But I sobbed while I watched the medical team poke and prod and give the necessary and immediate care that my tiny, premature baby needed. It felt like an out of body experience. Todd stood by, able to cut the umbilical cord and monitor the work they were performing on our baby.
I remained in bed, unable to feel anything below my belly button, legs still in stirrups while my doctor assessed and stitched up the damage. I cried and remained helpless, unable to hold and see and touch the tiny baby that spent so much time growing inside me. Now he was outside and I couldn't keep him safe. That's such a surreal loss of control, particularly for a control freak, as I am.
I wanted him back. I wanted their hands off of him, and the wires and cords and needles and masks removed, and I wanted him back.
There is a moment I dreamed of for months. That moment your baby is born, and they bring him to your chest and you just remain there, bonded. You, your baby, your partner. Your family. Your baby knows your scent, is comforted by your existence. It's such an important time immediately after being thrust into the cruel, cold world. It's beautiful.
I did not get that moment. And to this day, nearly a month later, I still feel that loss and wonder what I missed. What Owen missed.
The doctors did bring him to me, though. For just a moment before they sent him straight to the NICU. He was swaddled and Todd stood next to me. The doctors stood close, arms waiting to take him out of mine. His tiny, premature lungs needed them. But I needed him.
And for that moment, I got to meet my Owen Arthur. My perfect baby, who showed up early. My perfect baby, who spent so much time inside, but not quite enough time.
My perfect baby.
All of those weeks, all of those discomforts and tears and carpal tunnel and fears and Flamin' Hot Cheetos, brought us here. It's hard to imagine that the journey is over.
It's time for the next journey.