When last we left our intrepid heroine…
I was about to get my water broken in hopes of kicking me into actual labor. I was 6cm dilated, relatively pain free save for a very rude Cook catheter.
I asked Dr Flum, the doctor on call that day, if I could shower and have breakfast before we got started. I was showing no signs of problems from the magnesium, so she thought it was a good idea.
Ok, a little bit of transparency into my life: Andy and I love to shower together. It’s never a Thing, but more an opportunity for us to check in, say hi to each other, hang out, like watching Netflix but also getting clean.
Back at the hospital, Andy got his swim suit on and acted as my lifeguard in the shower. I showered with the dumb portable fetal monitors on, Andy holding onto one arm the whole time. Moving was very hard at this point with the fetal monitors, Pepe (my IV stand), some weakness from the magnesium, and the whole being pregnant thing, plus I had been essentially bedridden for the last week and was feeling the soreness and stiffness in my muscles.
I emerged clean and ate a hearty breakfast while Andy and I chatted with the nurses and my doula, Kim. My Labor and Delivery nurse for that day was Joy. I kept wanting to call her Amy because I swear she looked like Amy Schumer. But she fit her name, Joy, and was an absolute pleasure to have around.
After breakfast, at 10:15a, Dr Flum arrived with one of the residents who had been with me through most of the journey, Edie. Dr Flum pulled out what looked like a long crochet hook and had me lean back on the bed. I felt absolutely nothing except a giant rushing of warm water all over the bed. Dr Flum said she’d check back with me later.
15 minutes later, it started. The contractions came on stronger. I was breathing through them, Kim pressing onto my low back while they crested, Andy holding my hand or talking to me. It was a strategy we worked out in our birthing class. I took deep, yogic breaths, trying to steady my body. I thought, “Yeah, I can do this. I can do this.”
3 hours later, it got decidedly more uncomfortable. It wasn’t comfortable before that, but it felt like the kind of cramps I experienced when I was in high school before we knew that hormonal birth control would make the first few days of my period easier on me. I knew this feeling so I would breathe and breathe and breathe. It would dissipate and I could relax.
This new feeling was un-fucking-believable. It hurt so much. My back, my thighs, my belly, my chest, everything would tighten up and I would have to work so hard to get a breath in. I remember when I was 12 and I took a really bad fall during a ski trip and tore my meniscus in my knee. I remember the feeling of not being able to catch my breath because of the pain where the only thing I could do was sob and hope my breath would come back.
This was worse than that.
Kim suggested I try different positions. I had a sense of what would have felt good, but all the cords and wires and this goddamn belly meant that I couldn’t really get in the position I wanted. Plus my feet and hands were still swollen, so putting pressure on them was unbearable after about 5 minutes because everything would fall asleep, not good while in labor.
At 1:30p Dr Flum did a progress check, 8cm along. They decided to put an internal fetal scalp electrode on my son’s head to monitor him better. I could be free from the external monitors and have slightly more mobility. I had 3 things hooked up to my keychain, what was another wire coming from my vagina? This turned out to be a great idea. We could hear his heartbeat and track the contractions better.
I remember looking at the clock around 2:15p and thinking, “This has to be over soon. I want pain meds, but we have to be coming to the end.” Part of all the discussions of pain medication, we had been told that if they thought I was within an hour of delivery they would not give me an epidural or fentanyl. The magnesium was going to make my son floppy already and the pain medicine would make him even floppier, possibly making it difficult for him to breathe.
I kept going.
I found myself constantly saying, “Come on.”
I would say this to my son, “Come on, enter the world.” To my cervix, “Come on, open up.” And to this fucking intelligent designer, “Come on, really? This is what I have to endure?”
I vividly remember clutching the side of the bed and thinking, “I am never doing this again.”
We found a position with me sitting on the corner of the bed, my head against Andy’s chest. I would hold his hands and breathe, breathe, breathe, through the contraction. Then the swell of oxytocin would make me so sleepy, I would close my eyes and sometimes doze against him.
Over and over I did this, Andy at one point just holding my head and saying, “I am so proud of you. You are so strong.” This was the encouragement I needed.
At 3:30p Dr Flum did another progress check: 9cm. How did I have another centimeter to go???
At 4p I said, “I need to push.”
I can’t explain the feeling of this. It was so overwhelming, so all-encompassing a feeling. Pushpushpushpushpush.
I was told to hold, wait for the doctor.
It was like holding in a giant poop after I had food poisoning, only worse because I had my whole body telling me to push, not just my digestive system.
20 long minutes later, Dr Flum arrived. I had a little lip of my cervix left, which she manually moved aside. This was more rude than the Cook catheter. She felt a contraction while that was happening and all I could do was moan and try and keep still.
At 4:22 I made my first push.
Sidebar: During all of this talk of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, the thing I kept hearing is that I could have a seizure. I didn’t know what this would be like, but Dr Hannon, a doctor from earlier in the week, told me that I wouldn’t feel anything, I would “just wake up and not know what had happened while the rest of us worried about you.”
After my first push, my son’s heart rate plummeted and the put an oxygen mask on me. I thought for sure the oxygen mask was because I was going to have a seizure. I started to panic but listened for my doctor’s voice. At this point about 6 people were talking to me, so I just kept trying to hear what Dr Flum was saying.
“You’ll have to get him out in one push,” Dr Flum told me. She asked if she could use a vacuum to help and I, of course, said yes because, duh.
We waited for another contraction. This goddamn contraction took 6 MINUTES TO ARRIVE.
Finally, Dr Flum told me to push, we couldn’t wait.
I pushed as hard as I could, I paused to catch my breath and everyone was screaming, “Push push push!” I pushed again…
And my son literally somersaulted out of me. His head landed in her hand and his legs flipped over his head.
4:34p, Ronan Lon Willhelm made his entrance into the world. Wassup, kid? We’ve been waiting for you.
I learned later that Dr Flum called me one of the best pushers she’s ever seen.
I’ll take it.
He came out screaming. Dr Flum cut the cord, Andy trimmed it at the warming table, and my son was deposited onto my chest.
Someday I will write more about this moment. A lot happened for me in the 20 minutes I held him. Edie stitched up my one first degree tear, I delivered the afterbirth, Andy looked lovingly on at me and Ronan, tears streaming down his face.
They took him up to the NICU at 5p and I had dinner around 6p. I got text updates from Andy about his progress, his measurements, what was happening.
I updated Facebook.
Since this post is already almost 1500 words, quick summary of the aftermath.
I had some dizziness when they were trying to transfer me to the postpartum wing. Turns out my uterus had clamped down pretty fast after delivery and a clot got stuck in my cervix, so my uterus was still bleeding and filling with blood. The doctor that evening had to remove the clot, which is how I ended up with the most expensive painkiller in the hospital: Liquid Tylenol. Yup. Turns out that puppy is the most expensive and largely reserved for people like me who can’t have more intense painkillers because of blood pressure issues.
After he removed the clot (fingers in my newly raw cervix, blood everywhere, fun) I lost over a liter in blood. They were going to monitor me but chose not to give me a transfusion.
We went up to the NICU to see our baby. He was a monster compared to the other babies, who were all barely larger than a good steakhouse potato. He was beautiful. I wanted to keep holding him. I did not have that “in love” feeling people talked about, but I didn’t want to let go of him. Andy and I would eventually have to have a very serious discussion about holding time since we both wanted to hold him all the time. We eventually left the NICU around midnight so I could get some rest and would return around 6a to do some more holding and feeding. Moms with complications like mine are encouraged to rest more than anything so we can be adequately recovered to actually care for our babies.
The funniest thing happened on our way up to the NICU and on our way to postpartum. Apparently word got around that after 3 days on magnesium sulfate and 2 days on Pitocin, I didn’t deliver with any pain medication on board. This, apparently, warranted all the Labor and Delivery nurses, including those I had never met, to come and give me congratulations. I didn’t have the heart (or brainpower) to tell them it was purely my own idiocy assuming we were close to the end that prevented me from asking. I would have wanted the drugs.
Andy was adorable and told anyone who didn’t outright congratulate me about my feat.
We stayed in the hospital for 2 more days, Ronan would stay for another 11. We brought him home on July 10th, spending most of our days at the NICU, holding our son, me pumping breast milk every two hours for him, eating lots of sandwiches and pita chips and chocolate with hazelnuts.
And that is the story of how Ronan came into the world a little over a year ago.