Preeclampsia and the Birth Story

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So a week ago Sunday I had a baby, much to the surprise of me and my family.

But first, the Saturday before: we’d just wrapped up the baby shower, and I was remarking that I felt like I’d reached a point of completion. Then Mike’s phone rang — with a somewhat urgent call from the midwife.

No, really.  That is actually what happened.

The midwife said that there was too much protein in my urine, my blood pressure was too high, and since Zoe was 37 weeks as of Saturday, the consulting Ob/Gyn wanted me at the hospital now to be induced. We asked some questions about inductions, spent a good thirty minutes collecting our things and getting our affairs in order, and then off we went.

At that time, we thought we would be getting an induction. I thought I’d be out by Sunday. We packed a cooler and pillows and clothes, some toiletries, chargers for our various devices, and a couple receiving blankets and baby clothes.  We got into our room, I got hooked up to machines I didn’t like, and we waited.  Because it was a hospital. And “waiting” is what hospitals make you do.

The doctor’s visit went like this: to cure preeclampsia, we needed to deliver the baby. But induction drugs bring up blood pressure, and mine was already high. So they needed to counteract that if we wanted me to labor and deliver. The usual solution for this is something called magnesium sulfate, which had a long list of side effects, but I wanted to labor so I went for it. At the time my prognosis was good: I was 60% effaced without interventions, my cervix was soft, and the stage was set for me to have a baby by Sunday.

All through the wee hours of Sunday I was strapped to machines: blood pressure cuff, EFMs, catheter, blood oxygen sensor, IV. Every eight hours a technician came in and took my blood. Pretty much the opposite of the birth I wanted. It hurt. I was uncomfortable. I wanted to move and I couldn’t. I bitched at the nurse and was generally an unhappy patient. Oddly, I began to contract without the benefit of Pitocin; my body perhaps trying to get work done before someone pumped me with more drugs.

And unfortunately, “the mag” (as the nurses and doctors referred to it) didn’t work.  In my case, it really, really didn’t work. It made me feel terrible. I threw up. It barely made a dent in my blood pressure. And when the Pitocin got added in, the contractions started to affect Zoe’s oxygen supply. They pushed another drug to stop the Pitocin, put an oxygen mask over my face, and the doctors and a horde of nurses returned at 8 AM to tell me that I had entered a dangerous phase and they were strongly recommending a c-section.

“Basically, if you don’t do this now, you’ll end up having an emergency c-section,” said one nurse. “And you do not want that.”

So we elected to have a c-section. And then things moved very, very quickly.

There were more drugs. A short trip to a room that I knew to be an OR. A spinal. Something to neutralize my stomach acids (which I promptly threw up). A cloth shield was put up so I wouldn’t have to see myself being cut open, and then a feeling of movement. I remember the nurses loudly counting the equipment. I remember Billy Joel playing because my Ob/Gyn likes Billy Joel. I remember trying to tell Mike a terrible joke about a duck and a bar as the doctors worked. And then there was a baby being held up and someone said she’d been born and asked Mike to come cut the cord.

I felt like a failure. I’d had no time to come to grips with what was happening to me, and the combination of the suddenness of it all and the horribleness of the mag put me in a dark place. I cried and intermittently told bad jokes and apologized to Zoe throughout the operation. I had wanted so much to give my daughter the gift of labor — had wanted to ease her into the world — and here she was being yanked out without me doing a damn thing. This may be the wrong thing to feel when you’re about to give birth to your daughter — and it is birth, even if that birth is via hand and knife — but it’s what I felt up to that moment. I had not yet grasped that we’d both been in physical peril. I still thought that if I’d just done some things differently, we could have avoided all this.

I express all this because these were my thoughts in the OR and this is my blog and I want to get down these feelings so I can move past them. I had a great team of doctors and nurses. I had excellent care. I in no way think, at this moment, that this wasn’t necessary to ensure the safety and health of my daughter and me. And I in no way want this to reflect on other women who have had c-sections.

But after months of building up to a natural birth, this was how I felt in the moments leading up to seeing Zoe for the first time. I was very focused on giving birth. And if I am honest with myself, I still have a hard time calling it that.  All throughout the pregnancy, the one thing I did not want was to be cut open.

But then of course they put her next to me, and the only thing I can say is I forgot about all that shit. This was my daughter and she was beautiful and I loved her unconditionally. How she came into the world didn’t matter so much that she was here and now and I wanted to hold her and tell her how much I loved her. I had that burst of oxytocin and love despite all the drugs, all the loss of ritual and control. I knew in that moment I would always, always love her and never be the same.

And I still feel that way when I see her, and she responds to me as her mother. She calms in my arms, she loves to cuddle up against me. She’s my daughter, regardless of how she came into the world. Some things transcend method.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get easy from there. I was still pumped full of mag, and Zoe’s blood glucose…was worrying. The pediatrician immunologist on staff wanted to observe her. We were told she would be back in an hour…two hours…three…six.

I had been wheeled back into recovery by then, and was asking about my baby. Where was she? Why wouldn’t they let me see her? More time passed. I got more and more upset and frustrated. Mike kept visiting her in the NICU, but I couldn’t be moved, and she couldn’t be moved to me.

And then, at 6 PM, she came back…for fifteen minutes.  I held her and tried to nurse but they’d been feeding her formula to try and raise her glucose levels. She still rooted and snuggled with me, but she was so tiny.  Then the nurse came and reclaimed her, and a few hours later the thing we least wanted to hear happened: Zoe was officially checked into the NICU.

And so began our struggle with process.