Baby story, part 3: Birth
October came and Kellwin’s stamina went. She was exhausted after the wedding, but so was I and everyone else in the wedding party; we worked and played hard. But the burgeoning baby became burdensome thereafter. By mid-October, she was really starting to feel the pregnancy. Walking from her car to her work desk required a breather. Raiding was an endurance test that she often did not pass without ample breaks. Can’t blame her for getting fatigued while carrying a third trimester fetus.
After learning we needed to register with a pediatrician before the baby arrived, Kellwin and I arrange for late work arrivals in order to squeeze in an appointment with one. The pediatrician was friendly and matched our personality, no problems there. However, halfway through the meeting, Kellwin suddenly felt faint. The doctor had her lie down on the exam table and Kellwin felt much better. We shrugged, finished the meeting, and headed back to the car. On the way to the car, though, Kellwin had another near-fainting spell. We called her OB/GYN, and they said, “Get thee to the emergency room!” “But, uh—“ “EMERGENCY ROOM!”
Okay, so I added some emphasis. Point is, the nurse wanted Kellwin to go to the emergency room, that the situation was serious enough to warrant a day in the ER. We walk across the street to the ER and Kellwin gets checked in. A battery of tests and questions follow. Result? “Uh, shit happens when you’re pregnant.” The main concerns were high blood pressure, an indicator of preeclampsia, and blood clots. Her blood pressure started high, but lowered to normal after she calmed down. The blood clot test came back negative. Yay for nothing! We eschewed work and relaxed at home for the rest of the day. Twas our first scare of the pregnancy, but not the last.
November 3rd was an anticipated day as it was an ultrasound day. With the baby due in early December, the baby would be very visible. Exciting! Kellwin had her vitals taken, blood drawn, and urine sampled before being gelled up by the sonographer. Soon-to-baby pics! Yay! Baby looked healthy, off to doc consult and then back to work.
The OB/GYN doc came in frowning: the supposedly routine tests returned non-routine results. Elevated blood pressure + higher than normal urine protein levels = Preeclampsia.
What is preeclampsia? Wikipedia and the National Library of Medicine have extended answers. TL;DR version: Preeclampsia is serious medical condition wherein the mother’s body rejects the fetus, preventing full placental adhesion to the uterus. Because the placenta is not properly attached to the uterus, the mother’s body must work harder to get nutrients (i.e. blood) to the fetus. This additional stress (above what a normal pregnancy has) increases as the fetus grows: baby gets bigger, so it needs more nutrients, so the mother’s body works even harder to provide, thus the increased blood pressure. At the same time, the mother’s body fights the fetus as it believes it to be an intruder. The fetus grows, which forces the mother’s body to increase its immune response, which stresses the mother even more, thus the increased urine protein levels. If left untreated, the baby and the mother could die. The only cure is to remove the baby, either through birth or abortion. Preeclampsia, which is bad, is the precursor to eclampsia, which is exceedingly bad.
As much as the diagnosis freaked us out, we knew there was nothing we could do other than having the baby and there was nothing we could have done to prevent this. Preeclampsia is common (though still serious), so the doctor wasn’t panicky, just focused and concerned. She said we would “limp” Kellwin along (her exact phrase) as long as we could, hopefully to 37 weeks. Bedrest was not ordered, but reduced activity and plenty of rest was. We looked at the chart and realized 37 weeks was the 10th, a week away. The doctor wasn’t panicking, but we were: “We’re going to be parents in one week?! /KERMITFLAIL!” Due to the doctor’s schedule, we scheduled the induction for Tuesday, November 8th, with delivery on the 9th; Eleanor would be the latest late-term preemie ever. Then we /kermitflailed some more.
The last weekend of our youth
Luckily, we were nearly prepared stuff-wise for the baby. A few sundries and toiletries picked up on a frantic Target and Babies ‘R’ Us shopping spree, last-minute furniture organization, and we were ready for the baby.
Preparing the baby’s accoutrement was easy, preparing ourselves was not. We thought we had another three weeks before facing the transition from extended child-like adulthood to parenthood. We had planned to use November to make the transition: stop raiding on the 6th, my dad’s arrival on the 10th, mom’s on the 15th, Thanksgiving on the 24th, baby on December 1st or thereabouts. We thought we would enjoy the 5th and 6th, the last weekend of our youth. Go to the movies, have one last epic WoW adventure, goof off as we always had, stay up late, sleep in, a final toast to the many years of fun and frivolity before turning our minds towards the adventures of parenting.
Instead, we finalized our preparations on the 5th and sat around on the 6th. Our last raid was the 6th, the last day we played WoW. Raid was successful—first H-Majordomo kill, woot—but bittersweet. Very sad to say goodbye to everyone, to an activity that had brought me and Kellwin joy and fun for so long.
We knew we would face the transition eventually. We just didn’t expect to face it so soon.
And note the dates of my parents’s arrivals. They had planned to arrive a couple weeks in advance because due dates are best guesses. They did not plan nor could they have planned for Eleanor’s very early arrival. So unfortunately, they missed the birth of their first grandchild. Dad arrived a day late, mom was five days behind. Oh, and before anyone asks, “Why didn’t they change their flights?”: because they live in Australia, and airlines don’t like people changing their itineraries.
Dogs with in-laws, house prepped, bags packed, family readied, call list in iPhone, paperwork signed, it’s go time, let’s do this.
We arrived at the hospital at about 5pm on the 8th for our scheduled induction. We wanted a natural birth, but were not opposed to a C-section if circumstances warranted it. The induction process takes a while—about 9-12 hours depending on how quickly the cervix responds and dilates—so the nurse crammed the vaginal suppository into Kellwin (which is as pleasant as it sounds), and we settled in to the delivery room and prepare for a long, mostly quiet night.
Funny story: Shift change for the nurses happen at 11pm, 7am, and 3pm. I went to sleep at about 10pm after meeting one nurse. Then I was awoken by two blonde, attractive, twenty-somethings in the middle of the night. They were doing something to my wife. I must have grunted something because they turned and said, “Oh, he’s awake. Hi, we’re the night nurses.” I must have grunted something else because I turned and went back to sleep. I still don’t know if they were actually nurses or figments of my imagination as I didn’t see them again.
Kellwin’s contractions started around midnight and were menstrual cramp-y, slowly increasing in intensity. The final induction dose was administered at 7am. Due to funky drug interactions, my wife could not receive an epidural for four hours after the last dose, so 11am, the anesthesiologist would be in the room. Lesser drugs were available, but we wanted no pain. My mother-in-law arrived just before 8am to help; the rest of Kellwin’s family was working, but on baby alert.
By 9am, though, the contractions were fairly severe, more so than they should have been at this stage. Being first-time parents, we weren’t sure if the severity of the contractions was normal and Kellwin was just being a wuss (she doesn’t have the highest of pain tolerances, and those are her words), or if something was wrong. The nurse came in and attached a heart monitor to the baby directly (one had been on Kell’s belly the whole night; this was more accurate.) While attaching the monitor, she inadvertently broke Kellwin’s bag of waters (aka the nurse broke her water.) A shock to me who had never seen someone’s water break before, but the nurse took it in stride.
What the nurse did not take in stride was the baby’s falling heart rate. Kell’s contractions continued to increase in severity, and the baby’s heart rate dropped with each contraction. Suddenly, one nurse became two, two became four and a doctor, four and a doctor became an operating team. I was handed scrubs, Kellwin was wheeled to the operating room, and I followed. I wasn’t allowed into the operating room as Kellwin was given a general anesthetic; she was knocked out rather than numbed from the waist down.
Watching my wife suffer in agony for two hours then not being at her side as the doctors whisk her and our unborn first child into the operating room was one of the low points of my life, especially the ten minutes of waiting outside the operating room not knowing what happened to my wife and if the baby was okay. The nurses were very experienced in the fine art of handling emotional wrecks of soon-to-be fathers. Without them, I’m not sure if I would have survived that excruciating wait.
A nurse appears from the operating room: mom and baby girl are fine, baby is five pounds, six ounces. Girl will be out in a few minutes, mom needs to be stitched up. Relief, to be sure, but still nervous, anxious.
A short time later came one of the highest points of my life: holding my baby girl for the first time.
In the movie “City Slickers”, Mitch, Ed, and Phil are riding along, shootin’ the breeze. Ed asks, “What was your best day? And the day your kids were born doesn’t count.” While the day as a whole was a roller coaster of emotions, holding one’s first child for the first time is a feeling unlike any other. Indescribable. It may not have been the stereotypical moment—just me, a couple nurses, and Eleanor in a post-op room—but the setting mattered not. A glorious, treasured moment.
In the rush to the operating room, I had forgotten my iPhone, so the nurse grabbed a disposable camera (because I was neither the first nor last to forget a camera in that situation) and snapped me and Eleanor in that wondrous moment. Another nurse found my iPhone, which prompted this pic…
I carried her into the NICU. The nurses cooed as they checked her. She responded by peeing on the warmer. Good girl. Seeing as how she was in good (and wet) hands, I tried to find out how my wife was doing. The nurse who handed Eleanor to me said Kellwin was doing well. But what is “well”? How could she be well when she was just put under and sliced open? Why did she need an emergency c-section in the first place? I had questions, I needed answers. But all I could get from the nurses was that she was still in the operating room being stitched up and from there, she would go down to the PICU. Bah. So I started calling and texting. I figured my mother would want to be woken up at 2am to know that her first grandchild was out of the womb; international mobile calling plan ftw.
One person I didn’t text or call was my mother-in-law, Pam. An unintentional miss. She was in the room as her daughter suffered through the last couple hours of contractions and as she was wheeled into the operating room. However, due to medical information privacy laws and hospital regulations, Pam was prohibited from following her daughter nor was she able to find any information on her daughter’s or grandchild’s status (a nurse cited legal prohibitions on telling family and friends of a patient’s status.) Because she did not have a cell phone capable of multi-person texting, she was not privy to the texting conversation I had with the rest of the family, who were on their way to the hospital (Pam works 10 minutes from the hospital and took a half day to be with her daughter.) And, because the nurses needed to turn the room over, she got booted from the delivery room shortly after Kellwin went to the cutting board. Poor Pam sat alone, uninformed, and scared in the waiting room. Yeah, it was not a good few minutes for my mother-in-law.
At 11:30, I met up with everyone in the waiting room. We still didn’t know Kellwin’s status, only that she was in the PICU. A few minutes later, the doctor came by. She explained what happened.
TL;DR = Partial placental abruption
Full version = In preeclampsia, the placenta does not fully (as in, solidly) attach to the uterus. One complication is the placenta separating from the uterus. This is called a placental abruption, which is a medical emergency. As in, high risk of the baby and/or mother dying. As in, if you’re not at the hospital already, badness. So, ya, good thing we were already at the hospital.
Around noon, I was allowed to see my wife and show her the beautiful little girl for whom she had suffered so much; yay for iPhones. She was still in a great deal of pain, but she was well enough to smile through the hurt the nurse was dosing. I went upstairs, had some lunch, gathered our belongings, and settled into our maternity ward room just as Kellwin and Eleanor were wheeled in.
Now the hard part.
The next few days all blurred together. I’ve pulled all-nighters before, but I’ve never pulled consecutive all-nighters like I did at the hospital. I’ve also never had a 3-hour, repeating schedule: 1 hour on baby, 2 hours for everything else, repeat.
And there was so much else: helping mom recover, handling paperwork, managing relatives, coordinating with the nurses and doctors, maintaining our own hygiene, and, of course, trying to sleep enough to be lucid and coherent to handle the insanity. Ugh. I’m sure we did more, but lack of sleep ruins memories.
An aside: Aside from my own birth, I had never been admitted to a hospital (and technically, I still haven’t: my wife and child were the patients), so I was unaccustomed to how a hospital operates. Between the constant in-and-out of family, friends, nurses, doctors, aids, consultants, vampires, food deliverers, cleaning ladies, and more, our lives were not our own. We had a general schedule that nobody but us cared about. We wrote it down on the whiteboard—next feeding at x, next drugs at y—but oh aren’t the new parents so cute and naïve to think that they might control their lives? Ha ha. At least friends and family listened to our requests. Hospital staff did things on their clock even if that meant Kellwin didn’t get her pain meds on time. Nice. I bitch, but the hospital staff was very good to us. The constant intrusions that ruined any semblance of a schedule were another layer of stress on top of an already stressful situation.
TIP! If your hospital offers post-birth mom and dad massages, buy them. Money well spent. Thank you, Curt and Pam!
Our biggest hurdle was feeding. Being a late-term preemie, Eleanor was more tired than and not as strong as a full-term baby. She still had baking to do, but the oven couldn’t handle the stress. She wasn’t capable of breastfeeding right away: she latched, but her little jaw muscles couldn’t suckle. When she wasn’t getting the food she needed, we used other methods. We wanted her to get breast milk, so Kellwin pumped whether Eleanor suckled or not. First was eyedropper: when your stomach can hold less than 10 milliliters, a few drops are a meal. As she grew and started latching more, we used a flexible pipette inside a nipple shield to help her practice suckling while delivering the milk she needed. Even if it wasn’t coming directly from the breast, piping in milk while she tried to suckle helped to get her to realize that “breast = food”. When that wasn’t as successful as we hoped, I taped the pipette to my finger and let her nosh on it until she downed the bottle. Sure, formula from a bottle would have been easier—and we did supplement with formula when Eleanor’s hunger outstripped Kellwin’s production—but we wanted her to breastfeed, or, if that didn’t work, eat pumped breast milk.
Regardless of the method, feedings took about an hour. Being a tired little girl meant that Kellwin and I had to wake her up to feed. I know, I know: let sleeping babies lie. But when sleeping babies lose too much weight because they’re not eating enough, doctors order us to wake them. Babies can lose up to 10% of their birth weight before doctors intervene. After three days, Eleanor had lost 9.5%, which led to the worst night of the stay…
SETTING: Kellwin and Lyraat’s hospital room, 12:30AM
MOOD: Sleepy, anticipatory.
Nurse: Knock, knock.
Kellwin: (tucked into bed) Come in.
Nurse: Well, I have some bad news. (Kell and Lyr bolt upright) She lost another 4.5%. You need to feed her every two hours.
Kellwin: Every two hours?
Lyraat: So we have to feed her every two hours. It takes an hour to wake her up and feed her, which means we have one hour to sleep.
(Kellwin and Lyraat die a little inside)
Lyraat: She ate at 11pm, so…
Kellwin: Next feeding is in half an hour.
Nurse: I’ll be back in a bit. Good night!
By the way, for non-parents, the feeding clock begins when you start feeding. So if Eleanor eats at noon and is on a 3-hour cycle, her next feeding is at 3pm regardless of how long her meal lasted.
It really was as bad as it sounds. We’re already stressed, fatigued, and anxious, particularly about the feeding. To be told we needed to up our feeding game when we’re constantly fretting about feeding was bad enough. Telling this to us at half past midnight made it even worse. Ugh. We did as instructed and we got her weight up. She left a couple ounces below her birth weight, and she reached her birth weight on the 14th (the following Monday.) The nurse could have had much worse news for us. So for this to be our low point, I guess we came out just fine.
Funny story: Friday the 11th was particularly interesting. The nurses and staff were quite hurried all day. I asked if they were busier given the cool date (11-11-2011 or 11-11-11 for those who skipped that day). “Uh, ya.” Apparently, they ran out of rooms on the maternity ward floor, so they had to send families back up to the birthing floor. And most of the deliveries were planned c-sections. One family even requested the baby be delivered at 11:11am (11:11, 11-11-11). When we first found out we would be induced, I thought that we might want to try for an 11-11-11 baby. Seeing as how so many other people thought that, too, I’m glad Eleanor was not born on the 11th. My mother-in-law also was pleased she wasn’t born on the 11th as her birthday is the 11th and “Eleanor wouldn’t want to have the same birthday as her grandma!”
Our checkout day, Sunday, was exciting. After Eleanor’s pediatrician and Kellwin’s ob/gyn gave their respective approvals, the nurses filed the appropriate paperwork, and we packed our stuff, Eleanor breathed fresh air for the first time. Twas so invigorating she slept right through it. Same with her first car ride and walking into her home for the first time. Fine by us as we needed the quiet. After five days of hospital life, we were happy to be alone in our house, able to fully enjoy our gift to ourselves.
Funny story: Kellwin’s ob/gyn frowned as she inspected Kellwin’s stitches.
Doctor: I’m sorry.
Dr: Your stitches.
Kell: What’s wrong? I thought they were healing.
Dr: Oh, they are. Your incision is healing quite nicely.
Kell: So what’s the problem?
Dr: Well, in my rush, I didn’t center the incision, so the scar is going to be off center. I’m sorry.
Dr: A little plastic surgery can correct that if it’s upsetting.
Dr: I just—
Kell: Is the baby okay? Is it healing? Yes and yes? Ya, I don’t care about the scar. Primary mission objectives completed. Don’t worry about it. I won’t.
I appreciate the doctor’s perfectionist streak, and I know there are people who would be furious to have an off center scar. But baby and mom came out of the operating room healthy, that’s all we care about.
Speaking of car seats, the hospital will not release a newborn without inspecting the car seat first. We brought our car seat in and the nurses tightened the straps to ensure a safe and snug ride for Eleanor. And by “snug”, I mean, “suffocating”. The nurses seemed to be of the opinion that the slight chance of injury due to a car accident outweighed the certainty of death by oxygen deprivation. And thank goodness Eleanor’s arm bones have not calcified as otherwise we would have had to break her little arms to get her in. At least we knew she was safe.
When I reflect upon our time at the hospital, I felt like so much happened, but I can’t remember much of it. Maybe that’s because not much happened, but what did happen happened a lot. Lots of feeding, pumping, wishing for more sleep, doctors, nurses, family, hospital food, expenses, tests, check ups, medications…Lots of those things, almost nothing of anything else. Felt like boot camp for new parents. That’s a good thing: a safe yet tough environment that allowed us to transition into our new life. Just what we needed.