Monday, June 25, 2012

Birth Story or, You're Putting a WHAT in my What?

i know its my third childbirth and by now I should be over the whole thing but Mother Nature keeps the experience fresh and interesting and -- most importantly -- comical. So I've taken the liberty of sharing Terza's birth story, as well as the considerable risk that this will be, even for you faithful readers, way TMI.  

The day after my due date was a Thursday and I had an appointment for my weekly bio physical sonogram, which oldsters like me have to undergo every week in the last month of pregnancy, on account of “AMA.” I think they use the acronym not only for speed and convenience but so you won't be insulted every time you hear the term, which stands for Advanced Maternal Age. It didn’t matter that I’d barely slipped over the breakoff point for AMA, that I was only a few months into being 35 – I was still such a dried-up old sack of bones the docs needed thorough, weekly assurance that my dusty old womb could nourish life.  I didn’t mind, of course: getting a sonogram every week was a dream come true, totally enabling my neuroses. Plus, the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center warmed the sonogram goo, had a Kleurig coffee maker and always gave me a 3D close up of the baby’s face. Sheer luxury.

Since I'd made the appointment first thing in the morning, David could come with me. We dropped the kid off at school, reminding them again, as we had every day for the past three weeks, that today could be the day I had the baby, so don't be surprised if one of their grandparents showed up at pickup. The kids were over it by now - they'd had so many false alarms, they figured mine was hysterical pregnancy and there'd never be a real baby produced. 

I’d had the bio physical sonogram so many times I knew exactly what they were checking for – heartbeat, signs of practice breathing, signs of movement, and amniotic fluid levels. This time around, the radiologist noted that my amniotic fluid levels were a little low, but not to worry, she’d show the doctor on call and see what they thought.

David and I waited for longer than usual and finally the OB on call told us to come into her office, that she had Dr. Malley, from my OB's office on the phone for me. 

“Is there a problem?” I asked Dr. Malley.

“Everything is fine,” she assured me, “Its just that your amniotic fluid is a little low so we’re going to go ahead and induce you.”

“OK,” I said, “When?”

“Today, “ she said.

“Wow,” I replied, surprised. “Is this dangerous? Should I be worried about the baby?”

“No, no, no need to worry. This is common after 40 weeks of pregnancy,” she replied, “Its not dangerously low.”

“If it was, then what would happen?” I asked, never at a loss for worst-case scenario questions.

“Then we’d be doing an emergency C section, and we’re not,” she said, “Its just that when the amniotic fluid is low it’s a sign that the placenta is not working as well as it should be to nourish the baby. And as soon as we see that, we get the baby out. ”

“OK,” I replied, “So should I go home and get my stuff?”

“You could do that,” Dr. Malley said, “Or you could go now.”

“See, that makes me feel like this is dangerous,” I said.

“Its fine. It’s not dangerous. Just go right over to the hospital, OK?”

I decided that rather than waste energy deciphering the mixed messages or freaking out, I'd just get my ass over to the hospital. And get excited. After all, I was going to meet my baby today!

The hospital was just a few avenues east of the sonogram center so we walked over, stopping at a Ray's Pizza on the way for a 10:30am slice. Once we'd gotten through all the paperwork and I was situated in the waiting room, just hanging out til a room was ready, left for Brooklyn to get my hospital bag and other necessaries. By the time I'd explained to my grandmother on the phone where and when to pick the kids up from school -- an ordeal which took no less than forty five minutes --  the room was ready. 

The doc on call was a very young, very perky doctor from Chicago, Dr. Goldman. When I met her for the first time a few months before, I'd said to David afterwards, “Has she even graduated from college yet? Is she starring in the reloaded series of Doogie Houser?" I have a terrible bias against young people now that I am saddled with AMA, and bitter. On the upside, she was about the sweetest, kindest and most gentle medical professional I’d ever encountered. She explained the induction process in detail to me. It was pretty simple, actually.

The whole induction method relied on a balloon they’d be sticking in my vajajay.

I am not exaggerating. Its called a cervical foley and it’s a balloon, filled with sterile water, that they sliiiiiiide into your cervix to mechanically force it open. It sounds crazy and outdated like bleeding people with leeches but this is what is done. Apparently, mechanically dilating the cervix triggers the body to take over and start dilating in earnest on its own, especially if that body has already been through labor twice already. The balloon only gets you to 3-4 centimeters and then you do the rest, sort of like a cervical jumper cable.  While they were waiting for that to take effect, they’d give me a very low dose of Pitocin just to help things along. And hopefully, it would take.

“Sure,” I said, “Stick the balloon in.”

Dr. Goldman pulled out this plastic tube attached to a tiny plastic bulb.

“This is what the foley looks like,” she said, “Not so bad, right?”

I had to agree – it looked pretty harmless. But of course, what she neglected to tell me was that the balloon she’d shown me had been empty. Those sly suckers -- they insert it empty and then inflate it once its inside of you.  Then you’re stuck, in all possible ways.

“Is that comfortable?” she asked once the deal was sealed.

“Ummmm, I don’t really know how to respond to that,” I replied, “I mean, I have an inflated balloon in my private parts. But I guess, given that, yes, its OK.”

“Great,” she smiled, nonplussed, “Once you’re dilated 3-4 centimeters, we’ll be able to just give it a gentle tug and it will slip out. So I’ll come back in a few hours to check on you. Until then, feel free to move around.”

I figured this was her idea of a joke. I was hooked up to an IV, a fetal heartrate monitor and one for contractions AND I had an inflated balloon in my cooch with a tube hanging out so they could tug it sporadically and see it their insane technique was working. I didn’t plan on leaving that bed until the baby was out and the whole labor and delivery was behind me. Of course, I forgot that when they set up the Pitocin, they also started approximately 500 gallons of water pumping into my veins to hydrate me. Which meant I had to pee about every five minutes.

Walking to the bathroom, which was only ten steps away, was a total farce. I think it could actually appear as a circus act in a progressive, avant guard circus. Every time I attempted it, I got tangled and the monitors would get screwed up, causing a nurse to rush in, alarmed, and then I’d tell her I only had to pee and could she please get a team of experts to come in and help me do that please and then I’d get up and hobble over to the bathroom with the nurse wheeling my equipment and THEN I had to figure out how not to pee on the balloon tube hanging out of me because THAT didn’t seem hygienic in the least. Fun.

After an eternity, David returned from Brooklyn with my stuff.

“Finally!” I said, “What, did you stop at a bar on the way? Pop into a strip club for a few lap dances?”

“The subway is really far away,” he said, “What did I miss?”

“Oh, not much. They inflated a balloon inside my vagina.“

David set up the ipod and we started listening to my Labor Playlist, which relied heavily on the Beatles and Wilco. Then Dr. Goldman appeared, perky as ever, and with Dr. Malley in tow.

“I’m going now,” said Dr. Goldman, “But Dr. Malley is taking over and she’ll take good care of you.”

Honestly, I was relieved. Dr. Malley was a respectable age, mid to late thirties. I wouldn’t be the first delivery of her career.

Before she left, Dr. Goldman checked to see if I was dilated and still, after about an hour or so, I wasn’t. At all. Not that I was surprised. Call it whatever fancy name you will, these people were still relying on a balloon to magically evacuate my baby from the womb she was clearly loathe to leave. I didn’t see it working.

“Its still early,” said Dr. Goldman, ever the optimist. “Dr. Malley here will check on you in an hour or two.”

Within a half hour of them leaving the room, however, I started having labor pains. Real ones. The kind you don’t smile through. The kind that make you think you were fucking delusional to think those Braxton Hicks contractions could have possibly been real labor. The kind that make you want your doctor to come back. ASAP.

“Oooooooo,” I moaned to David, “This hurts. Get the doctor to check me. I’m sure I’m 3 or 4 centimeters by now.”

“But she was just here and you were still less than one centimeter,” replied my husband. He hates making a big deal.

“Ooooo,” I moaned, “oooooooh. I don’t care. Get her.”

David urged me to wait another half hour or so.  I lasted five minutes.

“I remember now. I remember the pain. I blocked it out but now I remember and I need that epidural. I need it soon and what if the anesthesiologist is busy and I have to wait? What if he's doing an emergency C section or two, or three and I have to wait an hour. Or more? David. I need that epidural. I need it.”

I'm not brave and I'm frankly not interested in pretending I am. The epidural I had for each of the last two childbirths was one of my favorite parts. I was really looking forward to it, especially now that the pain had begun. 

“Ok,” he said, “Let’s just wait a little while longer before we call the doctor back.”

Then I had an idea. A genius idea. We didn’t need the doctor.

“If I’m 3-4 centimeters dilated they can give me an epidural. And if you tug on the balloon and it comes out, then I know I’m 3-4 centimeters dilated. So tug on it.”

“Are you crazy?” he asked, horrified, “I am not taking it out. That is MEDICAL equipment. You need a doctor to take it out!”

“Its just a goddamned balloon!” I cried, “Tug on it!”

“No. No! I am NOT touching that.”

“Fine,” I panted, “Then I’LL take it out.”

“Nicole,” he warned, “Don’t do it.”

“All it needs is a little gentle tug . . . “

“Nicole!” he cried and he was begging now, “Don’t!"

Poor, beleaguered David. Ever steadfast and generous, he more or less always gives me everything I want, and all he asks in return is sex every so often. Now I threatened to maim the only part of me that he consistently likes, the only part he never gets mad at, the most critical part, really, the part keeping the marriage glued together. So I hesitated. And at that moment, the nurse walked through the door.

“Great,” David sighed, “Can you check her?”

“Sure,” she said, “I’ll just tug on the balloon.”

I gave David a look which said, “See?” as the nurse took hold of the tube and yanked, hard. Not exactly my interpretation of “gentle.” As she yanked, the balloon slipped out, fast, all at once, causing her to recoil slightly.  David, too. I just said, “Whoa.”

“So, you’re dilated now,” she said, dropping the balloon into the garbage. “Do you want a – “

“Yes,” I cut her off, “I want an epidural. As soon as possible.”

She left the room to fetch the Drug Lord. David was visibly shaken by witnessing the balloon extraction.

“Did you see the size of that thing?” he said.

“No,” I replied, “Was it big?”

“Was it big?” he repeated, “I’ll show it to you.”

“Oh, gross, don’t—“ But it was too late. David had walked over to the surgical room garbage can, reached in and pulled out the balloon. And then I was glad he did, even if he might contract some infectious disease from rifling through the hospital garbage. Because that was a sight to behold. The thing was MAMMOTH.

“Now I have an inferiority complex,” he said.

I laughed, “Allow me to remind you that that balloon, while massive, is still only a fraction the size of the human head which will soon be coming out of my vagina.”

And I think we’ll leave the story at that for today. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion. Less allusions to balloons in my vag and more tear-jerking, heartfelt moments.