It had been a few hours since I had been given an epidural. I was sleeping on and off throughout the evening. I don't remember what time it was, when I awoke to Conor speaking to a nurse....saying something about the baby's heart rate. I became alert immediately.
"What's going on?" I asked, concerned.
My husband informed me that the baby's heart rate was dropping every time I had a contraction, and this last time, it had dropped significantly low.
The nurse wasn't in the room when it happened (they aren't supposed to leave after you've been given an epidural, they are supposed to be there to continuously monitor both mom and baby), so my husband, being the med student that he is, was watching the heart rate monitor intently. When the baby's heart rate dropped to 50 beats per minute, during one of my contractions, and then it didn't recover right away, he started to get worried. He said it stayed low for 4 minutes, which is kind of scary, so he went out of the room to urgently call the nurse back in.
She came rushing, rolled me to my side, and baby's heart rate picked back up, but it made both my husband and the nurse nervous. She didn't leave the room again.
Soon after the doctor came in to check on how things were progressing. The nurse updated her on the drops in heart rate and then the doctor checked me out to see how dilated I was.
The doctor said that the baby was having a hard time handling the oxytocin, so they turned it off, to see if my body could do the work on its own, and maybe it would help the baby. However, after having the oxytocin turned off for awhile, it became quickly apparent that my body could not be in labour on its own. My contractions became slow, really spaced out and weak, and things were not progressing as they should.
The oxytocin was turned back on, but on a lower dose. My contractions started up again, but soon, baby's heart was struggling to recover after each contraction, and the doctor didn't like that, so the oxytocin was turned off again.
At this point, I was 10 centimetres dilated and it was time to give pushing a go.
Without the drugs, my body struggled to create contractions that were strong enough and close enough to move the baby down.
I pushed for about 2 hours, before the OB was called in to take a look, to see if other options were going to be necessary. She checked on baby's position and said that I had pushed him down quite a bit, she could feel that he had hair, but that he was face-up, instead of face-down, like he should be. She said she had to manually turn him, which was going to hurt.
It most certainly did.
Not only did she turn him face-up, but her movement had also pushed the baby back up my vaginal canal....so I had to start over in getting him back down.
I pushed for another hour or so. With my husband on one side, holding my left leg, our doula, on the other, holding my right leg, and the doctor down below, pressing her fingers against my pelvic floor to help me feel where I needed to push. They brought in a bar with a rag tied to it. I put my feet on the bar and grabbed onto the rag with both hands. With every surge I pulled myself up with my arms as I bore down. Every time I thought my head was going to explode from holding my breath in. Between each contraction, I would flop down like a fish, completely exhausted. I would close my eyes and almost fall asleep while we waited for the next wave to come. Things started to slow down. We were at about 10 minutes between contractions and it became clear that it wasn't going to be enough to get baby out, and we couldn't turn on the oxytocin to help me, because it would make it hard on baby.
I was in tears, because I was just so tired, I didn't think I could keep going.
It was 4 a.m and the OB was called back in. She did her assessment of the situation and then got very serious. She looked me in the eyes and said:
"We are at the point now where baby is going to need my help. You have two options. Option one, is that I can use forceps to reach in and pull baby out. This option poses risks for baby. There could be temporary and possibly permanent damage and/or markings on baby's head and face. Option two, is a C-section. If we do a C-section, I can guarantee that baby will be safe and I can have him out in 10 minutes. All the risk falls on you."
Then she proceeded to list all the things that could possibly go wrong for me. I looked at my husband for guidance.
"What should we do?" I asked.
"I think you need to decide this." he said, but then the OB jumped in and said:
"No, you need to weigh in on this." My husband looked at me and said, based on where baby was at, he thought a C-section would be best.
I agreed and said I wanted to do what was best for the baby. In that moment I felt very determined and stoic, but those feelings quickly dissipated as they wheeled me away from my husband to prep me for surgery.
As soon as I was in the OR, a full force of panic began to rise up within me. I started to go over all the possible things that could go wrong that the OB had mentioned: infection, a post-partum haemorrhage, blood clots, surgical injury, bleeding, etc.
Unfortunately, only a few weeks prior to this experience, we had watched a movie where the mother passed away from a post-partum haemorrhage, so naturally, I started to fear this possibility intensely.
My husband was still being scrubbed in, so I was alone with all my terrifying, negative thoughts. The anesthesiologist was there, administering more drugs so that I wouldn't be able to feel anything from the waist down. The OB started to prep me down below, and she tested a few areas, asking me if I could feel her touch. In my mind, I could, but apparently she had already started cutting me open as my husband walked in and I had no idea that she had started.
I was in hysterics at this point. My fear had blown up into a major panic attack.
When my husband came in, he said he heard the anesthesiologist ask the OB if there was any bleeding, because my blood pressure was really low. I don't remember him asking, but I'm sure on some level I heard it, which probably didn't help the panic attack. My husband told me after this was all over, that because he was worried, the anesthesiologist decided to pump me full of adrenaline, which in turn, also probably didn't help my panic attack.
All I remember from this time, was lying on the operating table, my whole upper body shaking, crying to my husband that I thought I was going to die, and feeling like I was being flopped around and ripped in half. I couldn't feel the pain of the surgery but I could feel tons of pressure and the weight of my body moving back and forth as they worked the baby out of me. Apparently his head was sort of stuck, so there was a "POP" sound when they finally got him out at 4:46 a.m. He cried immediately and as soon as I heard that sound, I just sobbed uncontrollably.
My husband told me that everything was okay, and that he was going to go check on the baby. I continued to cry and my body wouldn't stop shaking, my teeth were chattering, everything felt cold. The anesthesiologist told me that it was a normal physiological response to the epidural and that it would subside in a few hours as it wore off.
After just a few minutes, my husband walked over, with our brand new crying baby in his hands and he placed him on my chest. He had a little pink toque on. He was puffy, from all the fluids that had been administered to me, they had filled him up too. But he was beautiful. Our little Bowen James. I calmed right down, and so did he, as I shushed him and rocked him with my arms, while the OB put me back together.
"You're a natural at this." My husband said, which meant the world to me since I felt like a complete failure for not being able to have a vaginal birth.
After a few minutes a nurse came and took Bowen to do some more testing and clean him up a bit. I was wheeled out into a recovery space out in the hall. I was to stay there until I could feel my legs again. This meant that I would have to be apart from my little family for a few hours. The nurse who had Bowen, brought him out to me and did an incredibly brief introduction to breastfeeding. She placed Bowen on my bare chest and helped him to latch a couple of times on each breast and he fed for a few minutes. Bowen fell asleep quickly, he was exhausted, so the nurse told my husband to take him upstairs to our recovery room and that I would be brought up when the epidural wore off. I was heart-broken that we couldn't be together, but I didn't have long to feel that way, because I passed out from sheer exhaustion soon after they left.
At around 7 a.m. I woke up and informed the nurses that I could now move my legs quite a bit. I was so hungry, I hadn't eaten in over 24 hours, but I was told I still had to wait awhile longer. I was given popsicles every so often to munch on. I had my phone so I texted my husband to see how Bowen was doing. He sent me a few pictures of him sleeping peacefully in his arms.
By 7:30 a.m I was rolled up to our room and re-united with my guys and I cradled Bowen in my arms properly for the first time. Gazing down at his sweet face instantly made everything that I had been through, worth it.
I was disappointed in my birth experience. It was not what I planned or imagined, and my recovery, and Bowen's first few weeks of life weren't easy on us either, but that's a story for another time.
I am grateful for the staff and medical professionals at Kelowna General Hospital. I know they did all that they could to keep me and my baby safe. I'm thankful for modern medicine and the technology and knowledge that is available to us. Without that "just to check" ultrasound in the third trimester, we would have never known that Bowen was struggling and who knows if we would have our happy and healthy little boy.
At my 6-week check-up with the obstetrician, I was told that I would have about a 60-70% chance at having a vaginal birth for the next time and that I have the option to book an elective C-section. I haven't decided yet. Honestly, after going through all of the trauma of labour, I'm not sure I want to do that again and risk just having an emergency C-section again. Even though I had a panic attack during the surgery, I think a planned C-section would ease a lot of that anxiety for me. On the other hand, recovering from a major surgery is no joke. However, it might not be as horrible, if I don't have to push my body to its physical limit for 30+ hours again. I guess I'll just have to see how my next pregnancy goes and cross that bridge when I come to it.
In the end, I brought home a beautiful baby boy and above all else, that is what matters most.