Shanti, July 6, 2006
I became pregnant after nearly 3 years of trying, hundreds of dollars worth of fertility treatments, and the third intrauterine insemination (3rd time’s the charm, right?). It was an awesome pregnant lady despite some pretty significant morning sickness, and I had no other trouble all the way through. Having gained some weight on the fertility meds, I was happy that at 9 months pregnant, I weighed 5 lbs less than before getting pregnant.
After spending the preceding 3 years reading all I could about improving my fertility, I didn’t want to jinx the pregnancy or stress myself out by reading about pregnancy and the problems that could occur, so to this day, I’ve never read a book on pregnancy or birth (or child rearing for that matter). As I neared my due date, I did however, watch number of those stupid birth shows on TLC to prepare myself for the actual labor and delivery (ha!).
I chose to give birth in a hospital assisted by a doctor. Several people I knew at the time criticized this decision in favor of using midwives at home. But to this day, I maintain that each woman must make the choice about her delivery that works for her and her alone. I felt that since I had gone through such an ordeal to actually get pregnant, having the baby at the hospital with a doctor would be best if anything were to go wrong. I wasn’t risking ANYTHING with this baby.
I wrote an epic birth plan/manifesto outlining all of my desires for the birth and how I was going to try to do this drug free, use of forceps was not allowed, and how the baby should not be taken to the nursery but room-in with
me, etc, etc.
I had been at 1 cm for weeks before my 39 week appointment, but was not at all effaced. At that appointment, my doctor told me that if we didn’t see labor in the next week, we would induce. I trusted my doctor and saw nothing wrong with this assessment. I assumed this was common practice and the following week on my due date, I was admitted at 4:00 pm for the induction. Upon reaching the hospital and getting all hooked up, it was determined that I was actually in labor and so I was not given pitocin. At 8:00, I still didn’t feel any contractions and my cervix was still not effaced, so I was given cervadil, a cervical ripening agent. My husband and I celebrated his (my husband’s) birthday with Indian food and then I was given some preemptive pain meds and some sleeping pills and we went to sleep.
At about 3:00 am, I awoke in pain. The nurse told me that I could have more pain meds, but that they may not work and I wouldn’t be able to take anymore until they wore off 4 hours later. I threw my birth plan out the window and went with the pain meds hoping they’d work until I was dilated enough for an epidural. They didn’t work. I spent the next 4 hours screaming in agony with each contraction, which came erratically every 2-5 minutes. All of the techniques my husband and I learned in our 8 week birth class didn’t work to relieve my pain. At that point I told the nurse I wasn’t down with this whole labor thing anymore and just wanted to go home. Not an option, she told me (although she was way more shitty about it). My mom called around 6:00 in the morning, as she was about to get on the road for the 12 hour drive to see us, and heard me screaming. She cried the whole drive in.
As soon as it was safe and I was dilated enough, I got an epidural. And I slept. A couple of hours later, the nurse woke me up and told me it was time to push. Ok, cool. Let’s do this! I pushed for 3 hours. The baby’s head would crown, and then slip back in. Over and over again. The doctor decided to try the vacuum extraction. I distinctly remember her putting her foot against the bed for leverage and leaning way back to pull the baby out, and the baby still wouldn’t emerge (my husband does not remember that foot-leverage part at all). At that point, I was informed that we’d try a few more pushes and then we’d have to think about a c-section because the labor was failing to progress. That’s when shit got real and I started to get scared. The pushing was ineffective and I was told the baby’s heart rate was dropping and that I’d need to get an emergency c-section. I agreed immediately because I was scared and didn’t want anything to happen to my baby, so I was wheeled into the operating room while my husband was led away to get scrubbed in. My
epidural was replaced with a spinal block, I was strapped down (medieval-style) and my pubic hair was shaved. As the spinal began to take effect, I could not feel myself breathing and had a panic attack. The nurses assured me that I was breathing fine otherwise I wouldn’t be able to talk, but I swore I couldn’t breathe. They gave me oxygen. Then, I couldn’t hear myself talking. Unable to calm me down, the doctor asked if I wanted to “take a nap” during the “procedure.” And so I went nigh-night while my baby was born. My husband was not allowed to be present since I was under general anesthesia.
When I woke up, I was in a strange room that I wouldn’t have readily identified as a PACU. I immediately asked “Where is my baby and where is my husband?” They were brought in and I found out I had a beautiful, perfect baby girl. She was 7lbs 12oz and some 20.5 inches long. We named her Afuwaa Shanti, and my world was forever brightened.
Recovery from the c-section was not easy. On top of that, 3 weeks after Shanti’s birth, I began to have painful symptoms that 5 weeks later were diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis (likely brought on by the pregnancy). I spent much of the first weeks of my daughter’s life bedridden and in extreme pain, and over the next year while I struggled to manage my illness, I missed out on a good portion of her babyhood.
I always knew I wanted to have 2 children. It is what my husband and I had planned. I wanted Shanti to have a sibling. But in order for me to get pregnant again, I would have to get off nearly all my arthritis medications. I had already suffered significant joint damage and had 3 surgeries by the time Shanti was 2. And then there was that pesky fertility business too. Ugh! We shelved the idea of having another child for a few years and my husband even made peace with having an only child. But I kept an attic full of baby stuff, and a hope that someday we’d become pregnant again.
Ellis, December 15, 2011
Baby Fever had consumed me by the fall of 2010. I was GOING to have another baby one way or the other. My husband was much more hesitant. Holding onto the hope that my disease would go into remission during pregnancy (as is common), I had my IUD removed, I went off my meds, drank this horrible slurry 5 times a day for 2 weeks to flush the meds out of my system, and got our ducks in a row for IVF since we didn’t have the luxury of trying for 3 years again. But, it turned out we didn’t need fertility treatments this time around. When I showed up to the doctor to start the meds, I was pregnant.
And I rocked it out again. Another awesome pregnancy with no problems and weight gain of only 10lbs. My rheumatoid arthritis did go into remission while I was pregnant, returning with a vengeance a short time after baby was born. At this point, we lived in a different state and so I found a new doctor. Due to my “advanced maternal age” (I was 36) and my disease, the pregnancy was classified as “high risk” and I had about a billion ultrasounds. This time we decided
to find out the baby’s sex ahead of time, and learned I was having a boy.
I asked my doctor about a VBAC. She said sure, we could try it. But after reviewing my chart from my first delivery, she placed my chances of a successful VBAC at about 18%. So I scheduled a c-section for December 16, 2011 - the Friday before my due date.
My plan was to work through December 15th, until my mother convinced me to take off the 15th to give myself time to prepare for surgery the following day. I picked my mom up from the airport on December 14th at 8:00 pm. She brought me spicy tamales from my friend’s restaurant and I ate several before going to bed (because I guess I hadn’t learned my lesson eating the Indian food the night before Shanti was born).
At 12:30 am, I was awoken by some strange contractions. I got up to go pee. I continued having these weird contractions that made me pee several times in the next half hour. These contractions weren’t like the Braxton-Hicks ones, so my husband called the doctor while I threw my stuff into a bag and woke my mother to tell her we were heading to the hospital. We sort of sped, and by the time we reached the hospital about 15 minutes later, I was seriously uncomfortable. They put me in a holding tank where they hooked me up to monitors and gave me a choice: they could prep me for the c-section, or since my labor started spontaneously, I may have a better chance at the VBAC if I wanted to try it. I figured that if I was going to end up with the C anyway, I might as well give the VBAC at try.
So I did. At that point, I was 6 cm dilated and begging for an epidural. Anesthesia was called, and a short time later, I was hooked up. There was so much peeing and pooping going on with my contractions (damned tamales) that I wasn’t sure when my water broke, but eventually it did and I took a little nap while my labor progressed. Soon, it was time to push. I pushed for 40 minutes and my son, Ellis Addae came into the world at 5:02 am, a short 4 ½ hours after my labor started. He was 7lbs 11oz and around 20.5 inches long. He was then, and continues to be the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen. And such an old soul; I’m completely sure we knew each other in a past life.
Overall, I’m not bitter about the c-section. If I have to be cut open for my baby to be born healthy and safe, then I would do it again in a heartbeat. My only regrets are that my husband couldn’t be present, cut the cord, and hear the doctor say “It’s a girl!” I regret that I panicked and had to be put out and as a result neither of us experienced those first few moments with our first child. We can’t get those things back. So I felt redeemed when Ellis was born. When he was a week old, I was walking around outside in pre-pregnancy jeans feeling so good, I actually had the thought - “Huh, I feel well enough to go back to work already!”
And then I kicked myself for that.
***This picture is of us a week or so after Ellis’ birth at his Outdooring. My husband is from Ghana and in this ceremony the child is given his name and presented to the community.