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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Little Big Mona

Well, it's been a week, and I guess it's time to tell the story for those who are interested. Parts of it are beautiful, parts scary, and I've finally reached the point of being able to put some of it into words. I apologize if I get too emotional, and ask you to chalk it up to post-partum hormones or something.

Last Thursday, as many of you know, I was scheduled to have labor induced. It was less than a week after my due date, but the doctor was concerned about the baby's size, and I was concerned about what I felt was an abnormal amount of pain from this long kid. So I agreed, putting aside the dire warnings I've heard from many quarters about how doctors love to induce for their own convenience, and that there's no such thing as a "too big" baby. I have what one doctor once referred to as "birthing hips," so I wasn't worried about delivery; but I did worry some that she was outgrowing me in length, leaving me in pain much of each day.

Well, as has happened with several previous pregnancies, the mention of induction seemed to be enough to "scare the baby out." I went into labor naturally early Thursday morning, a labor that seemed to be progressing very quickly. After only an hour or so, contractions were four minutes apart, so my plan to labor at home as long as possible had to be changed. Laboring at home is one thing; but I did not want to risk having to deliver at home.

Of course, as many women can attest, labors sometimes slow down as soon as you get to the hospital. This is exactly what happened to me, so they went ahead and started a slow pitocin drip to restart things, about 5:30 AM. It worked, and very soon contractions were coming steadily and manageably.

By around 9:30, I used the bathroom and my water broke. The contractions were harder and closer, and although I was still able to manage them, I suddenly changed my mind about trying to avoid pain medication. By gum, I've had my share of hard labors, I decided, and there was no shame in asking for an epidural before the pain became out of control, instead of waiting until I couldn't handle it, and then having to wait for help. A little before 10:00, I was hooked up with the epidural, which brought instant relief, and was laughing through contractions.

That was when the nurse came in to do a second cervical check. (The first had been hours earlier, when there had not been a lot of progress yet.) She checked, and her forehead furrowed a little, and she checked again. "Uh oh," she said.

"What does 'uh oh' mean?" I asked.
"I felt two limbs," she explained. "You're going to need a cesarean."

She called the doctor in, and told him she thought she'd felt fingers. He checked, and verified her conclusions. He told me I was going to have a c-section, then left the room to find the on-call obstetrician. My doctor is a family practice doctor, so the OB would do the surgery and my doctor would assist.

It was a very good thing I'd requested the epidural, because it was already in place when it was needed. Otherwise I might have had to have a general. At any rate, the anesthesiologist was still there, so he was able to adjust the dose of the epidural higher, to make sure I wouldn't feel anything, and to manage the anesthesia end of the surgery. All of this was determined and arranged within a mere couple of minutes, and then I found myself wheeled into an operating room.

This is where things first began to get scary, or at least overwhelming. Nobody had asked me about doing this surgery. They told me she was breech, and it would not be possible to turn her. But I felt a little steamrolled as I got wheeled into this without ever having given any actual verbal consent. I wouldn't have argued, but having the decision made without my input did make it more frightening.

My biggest fear was that I might feel something, so the anesthesiologist did some tests to demonstrate that I wouldn't. By this time, the epidural (which is supposed to numb from the chest down) had numbed all of my chest down, and also parts of my hands and face. Then a sheet went up between my head and my tummy, and the surgery began. It had been less than ten minutes since the cervical check.

I tried not to think about what was happening, and I did not feel any pain. But I felt myself getting fuzzier and fuzzier. I was a little confused; epidurals aren't supposed to mess with your mind, are they? I don't remember if the fuzziness set in during or just after the surgery, but there was a sinking, smothering feeling growing inside me. I heard the anesthesiologist say something about morphine, and I said "Is that why I'm so woozy?" I think he answered with a yes.

As quickly as it began, it was over. My baby was taken to the nursery, and my husband with her, while I was left to recover for an hour or so. That was when the real nightmare began. The nurses were still there, but were relatively helpless. I fell asleep under the weight of the drug, and woke myself up with the realization that I had forgotten to breathe. I took a deep breath, and couldn't stop; more and more deep breaths, and the nurses told me I needed to calm down, I was hyperventilating. I fell asleep again, and again forgot to breathe, and again woke up hyperventilating. Then the thrashing began. My head couldn't stop violently swinging from side to side, as my arms tried to lift from the table extensions where they rested, waving wildly. If I hadn't been under the effects of the epidural, I would no doubt have thrashed my body off the table entirely. Meanwhile, the entire time, I was alternating between hyperventilating and forgetting to breathe. I was terrified that I was going to die if I fell asleep again. The thought kept going through my head that after all I'd gone through, I might never be allowed to hold my baby, to nurse her even once. I feared for my husband, that he might be told that while he was peacefully holding our newborn, I had died on the operating table. I can honestly tell you I have never been more scared or upset in my life.

About an hour later, I finally managed to stop hyperventilating and thrashing, and my breathing got back to normal. The nurses transferred me to a gurney (with me still feeling somewhat paranoid, terrified that they were going to drop me), and wheeled me to a postpartum room. As we passed the nursery, I saw my husband rocking the sweet baby I'd soon be holding for the first time. I had a moment of thanksgiving, knowing that she had such a good father. The nurses transferred me to a bed, arranged pillows comfortably, and set the bed at a good angle. Joel came into the room, pushing the isolette in front of him, and I got my first glimpse of little Mona. The nightmare was finally over.

Well, as it turned out, Mona was indeed breech, bottom first. She was also indeed large: 10 lbs, 7 oz. It was a good thing the doctor had urged induction, and a good thing he decided for a c-section instead of attempting a regular birth. I can't fault the doctors for anything in how they handled Mona's birth.

Still, recovering from a c-section is a lot harder than I anticipated, and adjusting to it mentally is also a challenge. I was the one once labelled by a doctor as having "birthing hips." I was from a family that had never seen a c-section. When I read about childbirth, I'd always skipped past the parts about c-section, because I knew I'd never need one.

Now here I am, reminded of what I wrote not all that long ago, about letting God be in charge. After months of enforced inactivity, I was ready to recover quickly and get back on my feet and busy, but God had other plans.

When I was still pregnant, I couldn't wait to be free to move about again, so I could finally make up to Joel for all he'd been doing for me. I wanted to be able to wash dishes, so he wouldn't have to. I wanted to bring him his dinner, and meet him at the door with a kiss. He had so genuinely earned the epithet "Charming and Patient Husband," and it was going to be my chance to be as good to him as he'd been to me.

But major surgery has a way of changing things. What should have been a simple recuperation became an exercise in additional dependence. "Honey, will you please help me sit up?" "Can you please take my arm and help me to the bathroom so I don't fall?"

God is reminding me, even more forcefully than before that sometimes we are called to do, but other times we are called just to be. Even when it's difficult. Maybe it's to humble me, or maybe it's because of all the grace and kindness it gives Joel a chance to develop; but for one reason or another, our Father has seen fit to repeat his message. "Sit down, my child." Ok, what next? "Nothing. Just sit down. I have my reasons."