My Initiation into Motherhood

April 30, 2007

As promised, here is PJ’s birth story.  I still can’t believe I hadn’t told the story before.  It’s one of my favorite stories to tell, and I’m always looking for a new audience.  There’s really nothing that private about it either, and I’m sorry I gave that impression.  You guys should know by now that I’m open enough about everything else, so why not his birth too?

Everything started with the rough pregnancy.  I won’t list all the issues again, but I do suspect the hematoma contributed to the early birth.  We were informed when it was finally diagnosed that there seems to be some connection between hematomas and premature labor.  Unfortunately, despite the connection, I was not eligible for any preventative measures because I didn’t have a history with the problem.  I shrugged it off, sure that wouldn’t be a problem for me.

Still, I worried about premature labor for the next few months.  I memorized every possible symptom for premature labor and made deals with fetus-PJ that he wouldn’t come until after 30 weeks.  I took his kicks in response as his agreement.

Somehow even after all that worry and preparation, I didn’t recognize what was happening to me when it did happen.  It started late one Thursday night at 31 weeks 5 days, about 10:00 (actually right after “adult activities,” a fact I often leave out of the story, even though I wonder how it factors into what happened next).  I had some come-and-go lower back pain that felt more achy than anything.  I put a heating pad on my back and tried to go to sleep.  The pain continued to get more severe, so I got up and took a hot shower, moving the shower head so that it would focus right on my lower back.  It felt good but didn’t stop the pain.  At some point after that, I noticed the pain in the front of my abdomen as well as the back.  I took some extra-strength Tylenol to help the aches and pains go away.

The rest of the night was spent fighting with the pain.  It would go away for a few minutes, so I’d try to sleep.  But then it would come back before I could doze off.  I noticed that if I counted slowly to thirty at first, the pain would usually ease up by the time I finished.  Then it was 45, and by morning, it was 60.  I alternated between lying in bed, trying to find a comfortable position, and pacing the floor of our apartment during the worst of the pain.  About the time the sun was rising, I was feeling the need to go to the bathroom every time the pain hit.  My bladder and bowels both emptied themselves over the next few hours, a little with each pain.  I remember sitting on the toilet, looking through my well-worn copy of What to Expect, trying to diagnose what was wrong with me.  The pain felt nothing like labor, especially the descriptions of premature labor, so I looked at other possibilities.  I finally decided I must have a killer kidney infection because of the sharp back pain.  I knew all they would do at the doctor or the ER would be admit me to the hospital to feed me antibiotics through an IV (I still couldn’t swallow most pills).  Not wanting to spend that much time in a hospital an hour from home and M, I kept hoping the pain would go away on its own.

Finally at about 11 or 11:30 am, M persuaded me to call my doctor.  He hadn’t realized just how much pain I was in all night and I was starting to worry him.  The doctor was somewhat comforted that I assured her I knew it wasn’t labor and was willing to let me wait it out over the weekend as long as things didn’t get worse.  Just to cover her bases, though, she told me that if I had six pains in an hour to head to the hospital.  Twenty minutes and four excruciating pains later we packed up and started the hour-long drive across town for the hospital.

We had no idea where we were going in the hospital, having never been there before since we missed our chance to go to a birthing class at all.  We got sidetracked on the wrong floor and had a kind nurse help us to the right place.  I think she knew what was going on at the time even though we didn’t.  I walked all the way to the triage area on my own power, refusing the offer of a wheelchair.  While I was changing into the hospital gown in the bathroom, I was hit with the worst pain yet.  I couldn’t even move while it was going on.  Still, I didn’t think I was in labor.  Five minutes later, in bed with the monitors strapped around my belly, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see that it was registering contractions.  I figured they were Braxton-Hicks and unrelated to my current pain.

The nurse went to check me, just to make sure I wasn’t dilated.  Before she could get the speculum in me, she dropped it and rushed back out of the room.  She managed to call over her shoulder calmly as she left that all she saw was my bag of waters.  From there, I remember chaos.  There were frantic calls to my doctor, having my bed laid all the way back so that my head was lower than my belly (calling on the aid of gravity, I think), talks of admission and NICU and not to push.  Through all of it, I recall utter calm, as though every panicked nurse was crazy, as though I knew every step of what was going to happen before it did.  It was like I was watching the whole situation on tv and it didn’t affect me at all.

There were phone calls to the family in the brief seconds we had between signing papers, getting checked again, a quick sonogram to make sure PJ was head-down, having my water broken, getting a last-minute epidural (yay!), and the million of other things I’ve forgotten.  Suddenly I was pushing.  I remember this period as a fun, relaxing time (laugh if you must).  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and didn’t last long at all, about two contractions total.  The contractions still weren’t regular, so I had long, painless periods between each contraction.  I remember sitting there with my legs in the stirrups laughing and making jokes with M and the doctor and nurses.

Then suddenly the doctor was holding up PJ for us to see.  M tells me that the doctor wasn’t prepared for how light he was and almost dropped him when he flew out of me.  He was crying from that first second, and I knew as I’d known all along that he was going to be just fine, early or not.  The cleaned him up and called out his apgars as that icky placenta was delivered and I had the one stitch put in my tiny tear.  “*8!” one nurse called loudly right away.  A few minutes later I heard, “9 1/2” called out.  I beamed in pride at each successful score.  I had a brief moment to hold him before they whisked him away to the NICU.  I remember feeling quite detached as I looked down at this tiny baby they told me was mine, the little squirmy thing that had been kicking my belly for all those months.  It was impossible to believe at the moment that he was mine.  That was the only time I got to see him for another eighteen hours.

Fast-forward through both his and my hospital stays.  There were good days and bad days.  I sank into a deep depression that was only eased by getting to see my son for that one hour each day (sandwiched between a one-hour drive across town each way), and even then only if things went well that day.  He never did have any of the serious issues they predicted when they talked to us in the first hours after he was born.  The only issue was apnea, and that was never even proven.  The pulmonologist we were referred to in the months after his birth never could determine why he had been sent home on an expensive apnea monitor that hampered his development until he hit six months or so.  I still have hurt feelings when I remember that time of our lives.  It was traumatic, even if it was an easy experience compared to that of many NICU moms.  I never want to have to go through any of that again, which is why I tend to be paranoid about every little difference with this pregnancy.  At least now you know why I succumb you to all my worries and complaints.

There’s so much more I could tell you and feel like I’ve forgotten, but I suspect this is plenty long enough as it is.  I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures from PJ’s early days.

PJ being checked out right after birth (taken with M’s cell phone–we left without the camera)

the first time I held PJ (also a cell phone pic)

a day or so later in the NICU