Monday, December 16, 2019

Welcome to the World, Cal

[Warning: some minor medical descriptions of labor and delivery.]

When Calvin was born, his eyes were open, and he was five-and-a-half pounds.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This all began on Sunday morning.  I woke at 6 a.m., which is apparently a time that exists.  I was having pains not unlike cramps; I got up and made a pot of coffee.  Andrew got up shortly thereafter.  We had plans to go have brunch with one of his friends.

My original plan had been to quit work about two weeks before the baby's due date, to go up to Canada and have the baby there.  Unfortunately, Carlisle threw a wrench into our plans by getting very sick but not actually dying. 

This animal is actually still alive somehow.

I still wanted to quit work about two weeks beforehand, just because of mobility issues and general discomfort.  But I'm terrible at saying no and have a deep fear of disappointing my incredibly nice boss, and I had somehow ended up scheduled through the 15th.  I had worked Thursday, December 12th, and regretfully informed Chris that there was no way I could work my last scheduled day, December 15th, because I was having difficulty being on my feet for 6-hour stretches, and didn't think I was providing very good service.  Chris was, as usual, understanding, and said it was fine for me to take off that day.

So we had brunch plans, but as Andrew was preparing to go, I told him I was feeling pretty shitty because of what I assumed were Braxton-Hicks contractions, and to go to brunch without me.  I asked him to bring me back a burrito and a vanilla milkshake.

I actually posted this.

Around noon I went to the bathroom and, lo and behold, my mucus plug had come out.  For those not in the know, the mucus plug is what keeps the baby and the amniotic fluid sterile during pregnancy; it jams up the cervix and separates the uterus from the vagina.  I called Andrew to let him know, and then checked online, discovering that you can lose it anytime from 36 weeks onward, and it may not necessarily be a big deal.

At this point I still suspected I was "only" having Braxton-Hicks contractions.  My reasoning was as follows:
  1. Everyone told me that you'll know the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real labor.  Also, I was told that Braxton-Hicks contractions start in the front and real contractions originate from the back.
  2. The due date was December 21st, a full six days away, and I still had shit to do before the baby's arrival.  Also, current statistics suggest that first-time babies tend to reach term and be more likely to arrive late than early.
  3. My mother's babies all came late, and the best prediction for a baby's delivery is how the delivery of the generation before was.
  4. My water hadn't broken.
I called my mom, who advised me to go to the hospital.  I ignored this.  Andrew brought home a burrito, which was terrible, and a horchata, which was the closest thing to a vanilla milkshake the restaurant served.  I laid around waiting for the pain to stop.  It didn't.

My mom called around four to see if we were at the hospital yet.  We weren't, but by that point, we were considering it strongly.  Andrew had downloaded a labor tracking app and by his estimation, my contractions were spaced evenly apart. We decided we should at least pack a bag.

Around six p.m., we threw in the towel and drove to the hospital.  My contractions were five minutes apart and, although they still felt to me like they were coming from the front, they were undeniably severe.  We parked and I had two on the walk in to the hospital; during the second, I felt a warm stream down my leg.

About the water breaking: it's not actually clear when it does.  I had Googled it before we left for the hospital and discovered two troubling facts.  First of all, it may or may not break during labor.  The water breaking does not signify the beginning of labor, as you might think; in fact, the water can break at any time during the labor and in some cases never breaks at all.  (My mother's water apparently never broke and had to be manually "popped.")  Second, when it breaks, it may not be obvious.  In movies, when the water breaks, it's always shown as follows: a woman screams, doubles over, and proceeds to spill about 15 gallons of water all over the floor.  In real life, sometimes, the water breaking looks more like a trickle, and people think they've peed themselves.

Alarmed that I was most definitely in labor, we waddled into the hospital, took the elevator up to the maternity ward (stopping to buy a diet Dr. Pepper), and informed them that I was having a baby.

Andrew took this picture in the elevator for posterity.

They gave me forms.

I scribbled out some shaky information on the forms between contractions and was taken to an admitting room, when they gowned me up and did a cervical check.  For those who don't know what this is, it basically involves shoving a few fingers up your yoo-hoo and feeling for how dilated you are.  And I'll say this right now: it was literally the most painful part of the whole ordeal for me, hands-down.

The nurse informed me I was "only" two centimeters dilated.  I said that could not be correct.  She said that patients are only admitted under three conditions:
  1. They are more than four centimeters dilated.
  2. They would like to be administered an epidural for pain management.
  3. Their water had broken.
I was still unclear on whether or not my water had, in fact, broken.  I mean, I was pretty sure, but couldn't tell.  Maybe?  Or maybe I'd actually peed myself.  I was feeling fairly unsure of things, considering I'd already spent 12 hours having "Braxton-Hicks contractions" that turned out to be real labor.  Also, by this time, my contractions were two to five minutes apart, and it was hard to focus on what was happening because they were distractingly painful.  I knew I didn't want an epidural, and I was certain I was more than four centimeters dilated, but the only way to tell was with a cervical check, and I was adamantly against that.  They wanted to get a speculum (which is basically a salad tong-looking thing they shove into you to open you up) and do a swab to see if my water was broken, and/or to check the cervix again, and I was basically stalling because I didn't want that but also saw no recourse.  I certainly had no intention of walking off without being admitted, because it was clear, by that time, that I was absolutely going to have a baby.

Thirty minutes of hemming and hawing, with the nurses asking me what I wanted to do, paid off, when my water finally broke for real.

Remember how I said in movies, it's always a very dramatic gush with a ton of fluid, and how real life isn't like that?  Well, mine was movie-style, with a very distinctive "pop" feeling and the cinematic 15 gallons of fluid all over me, the gurney, the floor, and the nurse's shoes.

With barely concealed annoyance, she stripped off her gloves and said, "Okay, you're admitted."


There was mild concern because the "water" (actually amniotic fluid) contained meconium, which is newborn baby poo.  My apparently very advanced child had pooped before he was even born; there is a small risk of complication because babies can end up aspirating the meconium during birth, which is bad.  I was wheeled into a birthing suite (the biggest hospital room you ever saw!) and strapped with a baby monitor on my stomach, which did not want to stay on, because I was thrashing and screeching like I was at Ozzfest.  The monitor could tell when contractions were; they came in "waves" but at that point I couldn't very well distinguish them from one another.  I was informed the doctor might not make it in time for the birth and that I should just do what my body felt like doing.

  Responding to this news.

This was counter to what I'd read online, which said you'll feel the urge to push but should wait a bit because premature pushing can lead to tearing.  But apparently, the nurses said, I was "more dilated than we initially thought."

Dr. Quimby arrived around 10 p.m.  At this point I had been in labor for about 16 hours, four of them "active" labor, which is the part where you're panting and contracting really hard and no longer confused about what a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels like.  She wasted absolutely zero time; she sat on a stool between my legs, braced my feet against my shoulders, and informed me it was time to push.

 I won't show pictures of this part but just imagine it being really loud and bloody.

I was in too much pain to communicate my total terror.  For as long as I can remember, giving birth has been my single greatest fear.  This had not abated during pregnancy, because they had given me lots of informational pamphlets that gave horrifyingly calm descriptions of "routine" procedures like episiotomies.  I did not want an episiotomy, which has largely gone out of vogue.  Dr. Quimby had reassured me that they don't usually do those anymore.  But all bets are off in the birthing suite; I had already disproven the "don't-worry-you'll-know-labor-when-it's-time" myth, as well as the "most-water-breakages-aren't-dramatic-gushes" one.

When the next contraction hit, I pushed.  Nothing happened.  I was told to wait as the contraction passed; when the second one came, I was told to push again, like I was pooping.  (Note: I was hyper-aware of the burrito I had had earlier and did not want to poop on the baby, something that happens semi-regularly, apparently.)  Again, nothing happened.  The third contraction came and I strained; nothing happened.  I was informed that they could see the baby's head, which was past the cervix and in the vaginal canal, but from my perspective, that wasn't really progress.  Dr. Quimby had been doing some aggressive rubbing down there that hurt, but everything hurt, and I was convinced they were seconds away from cutting me open.  (Somewhere in the background, Andrew was informing me that the baby was crowning and I was super, super close, but there was roughly a stadium's worth of people there at this point, so his voice was lost in the general hub-bub.)

Dr. Quimby turned to a nurse.  "Get me my--" she began.

Oh God.  This is it.  She's getting the scalpel, I thought.

"--mineral oil," she finished.

They dumped mineral oil on, in, and around me, and told me to push.  I did; the baby slithered out.  If I had to describe this indescribable feeling, I would say it is most similar to taking a five-pound shit.  There is an immense sense of relief.  What's more, it was not the most painful thing I've ever experienced; it was in the top three, certainly, but it was so weird and foreign and alien that a lot of the actual "pain" was lost to the general bizarreness of it all.

I first realized he was out because he cried.  He was born with his eyes and mouth open, shouting and squirming with a shocking amount of strength.  They put him on my chest, still crying and still tethered to me; he settled down and we stared at each other with equal expressions of utter shock.

 Calvin at five minutes old and then at about two hours old.

A moment later they pulled out the placenta, which was as large as the baby was and looked like a deflated cow heart.  They held it up for me to see.  (I requested this because I was curious.)

Dr. Quimby said I had torn just a little and needed one stitch; everything from my navel to my knees felt so strange that I barely felt it.  After the baby was checked over (Apgar score: 8 at one minute, 9 at five minutes), we two were wheeled into a post-delivery recovery room together, which is where we are currently.

Calvin was five-and-a-half pounds, seventeen inches, and was born with his eyes open.  He came at 10:37 p.m. and he was perfect.  Small, but fierce, not unlike his parents.  I didn't sleep all night, watching him in his bassinet beside my bed; every hour, it seemed, someone came in to peek at him.  The consensus was the same: he is an objectively cute infant.  Most newborns look like turnips; mine came out baby-like, his head a perfectly round melon, his skin unblemished, his mouth a perfect Cupid's bow that figured out how to latch onto a nipple within hours.

I hadn't given much thought to what it would be like after he was born and I've been pleasantly surprised by the aftermath.  My body is sore, similar to what it felt like the day after running a marathon, but I can walk fairly well, and I'm bleeding, but not nearly as much as I expected.  Calvin is bright-eyed and alert, and not at all fussy.  My mom, who had planned to come in before the delivery on Wednesday, flew in early to meet him.

It was, overall, a very standard and surprisingly easy birth.  It was also perfectly cinematic; the water breaking was comedically timed and dramatic, and the baby's appearance was actually baby-like.  After nine months of shitty pregnancy, the payoff is this: I have a son, and he's perfect; his eyes were open and he was five-and-a-half pounds.

Above and below: Calvin at 24 hours.

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