The doctor says, “Get her oxygen, now!” A nurse straps the oxygen mask onto my face and instructs me to take deep breaths. My doctor says, “Breathe the oxygen down to your baby!” So I breathe, deep, quick breaths, visualizing the oxygen going to the baby. I don’t really know what is going on.
There I am with all five nurses, my doula, my husband, and the doctor (who usually doesn’t show up until the delivery) hovering over either me or the monitor showing the baby’s heart rate & my contractions, and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is going on! Someone (I don’t remember who) tells me the baby’s heart rate has decelerated — apparently to a dangerously low level. They decide to insert an internal fetal monitor. I remember seeing one of these at the baby prep class… and a part of it actually goes into the baby’s scalp so they can accurately monitor her heart rate, since the external monitor is not nearly as accurate. It freaks me out a little, but at that point, I want them to do whatever it takes to make sure my baby is okay.
The whole chaotic mess lasts about 5 minutes before my relieved doctor announces that the baby’s heart rate is back to normal and she’s happy that the baby was able to recover so quickly. I still have no idea what happened or what it meant, but my husband has now gone ghost white and is covering his mouth with his hand, as if he’s still in some terrible shock. In fact, the look on his face is scaring me more than anything else. The doctor steps out and my husband rushes after her. This worries me as I wonder if there’s something they’re not telling me.
When they return to the room, the doctor explains that the baby’s heart rate dropped so low that she wasn’t getting enough oxygen to her brain, which is why they gave me extra oxygen. My husband is beside himself because he’s worried our daughter will have some type of brain damage. Our doctor reassures him over and over that the baby has more than a 5 minute supply of oxygen and no damage has been done… but she also stresses that we can’t afford another episode of the same. She says she doesn’t know if the baby’s head is too big for the birth canal or if the baby has a cord wrapped around her neck, but the monitors show that whenever I have a contraction and the baby’s head descends, that her heart rate slows down. She tells me that because she knows how much I want a vaginal birth… and I’ve already worked so long… that she’s going to monitor us for half an hour and see how well the baby tolerates my contractions.
“If she’s not tolerating them well, I’m not going to let her decel again – we’ll get this baby out!” she says. And by that time, I’m so afraid that some last minute tragedy is going to occur and that my husband’s long-time fear of us having an impaired child is going to come to pass, that I actually just want the doctor to wheel me in to the surgery room and get the baby out immediately. But I don’t say anything – partly out of shock and partly because I’ve now mentally/emotionally handed over all decision making power to my doctor. And I pray, with all my heart, that my baby is born healthy. This is the first time in my life that I have known real fear.
The baby doesn’t seem to be doing well, but not poorly enough to rush me into a C-Section, either. Everyone in the room is now staring intently at the monitors. No one is looking at me. Except for my husband, it almost seems like no one even knows I’m there. At a certain point, the baby isn’t tolerating labor even in between contractions. My doctor is trying to wait it out… and then notices that I haven’t had a contraction in a while.
At nearly 29 hours of labor, my uterus has reached fatigue and stopped contracting. There’s nowhere else to go now, and a C-Section is imminent. The nurses have been prepping the surgery room and now they prep me… putting me into a hospital gown and covering my hair with a surgical bonnet… then wheeling me into the O.R. My husband and the doula are given scrubs as well.
I’m in the surgery room and everything feels a bit surreal. Oddly, the operating lights overhead give me a feeling a familiarity – I looked up at similar lights during every egg retrieval. I find this thought strangely comforting. From beginning to end, this entire process seems to come full circle.
The anesthesiologist is there, ready to connect me to the morphine drip. His droll humor is now amusing. It’s something to focus on in the quiet, sterile environment. As he adds the morphine to the epidural, I begin to convulse. I feel like a fish out of water, flailing everywhere. To me, the convulsions feel violent and uncontrollable. My teeth start to chatter. He asks me if I’m cold. I can barely stop them long enough to form the word, “No.”
I take a closer look at the light fixture above me and notice it has a smooth metallic disc in the center, serving as a makeshift mirror, and the way it’s positioned, I can see exactly what’s happening on the other side of the “germ guard” they put up. “The nurses are going to prep you now,” someone says, and I watch them swab Betadine over my belly. I realize that I could watch my entire surgery. How could they not know? I quickly make the decision to close my eyes, fearing that seeing what’s happening to me will somehow make me feel it, too.
My husband and the doula arrive in their scrubs. My husband is seated next to me. He strokes my cheek and tells me I’m doing really well. The doctor’s assistant warns of an unpleasant smell. It’s flesh burning. It’s my flesh, as they cauterize the incision. It’s a very peculiar sensation to be conscious during surgery.
The operation lasts about 15 minutes, with all kinds of minor chatter. The anesthesiologist asks if we have a name for the baby and my husband says, “Yes. Samantha!” I smile. Because we hadn’t officially come to any conclusion, but earlier Friday morning, I had mentioned that I was really leaning toward “Samantha.” I guess 30 hours of labor will get me whatever name I want!
A few minutes later, the doctor says, “Yep, she’s got the cord wrapped around her neck! So that’s what was happening!” Then the doctor says, “Are you ready to meet your daughter? She’s coming!” And she pulls a very pink and healthy baby Samantha out! The anesthesiologist holds up a mirror so I can see my baby over the germ guard. But he doesn’t realize that I can also see behind the baby at the gaping hole in my body. I can see my skin cut open, the blood, the layers of tissue and fat, and the huge open gash. Luckily, seeing it does not make me feel the pain.
I turn my gaze back to my daughter. I’m overwhelmed. Crying. Convulsing. My husband keeps saying, “Oh my God, she is so beautiful!” in a voice that makes me cry even now as I remember it, because it was so full of unadulterated love. Even the doctor says she’s beautiful and quickly adds, “and I don’t say that to all my patients!”
She is beautiful. None of it seems real… but there she is, this beautiful creature of ours. Nurses are cleaning and weighing her. One of them asks my husband if he wants to cut her umbilical cord… yet another aspect of my birth plan goes by the wayside, as they were supposed to wait until the cord stopped pulsating before severing it. But it doesn’t matter… nothing matters other than the fact that we have a healthy baby!
The anesthesiologist arranges for photographs with me, my husband, and Samantha. They bring her close to me and she opens her eyes and gazes into mine. I am so in love already. I’m crying… still shaking… but so happy now that my family is all together and that everything has turned out alright. I tell her I love her. My husband sings to her — the same song he sang every single night when she was inside me: “My Girl.” For a moment, no one else exists. We are in our own brand new cocoon. The world is perfect.
When they take Samantha away, my husband follows her. I am still being sewn up on the table. Later, my husband tells me that when was on the other side of the germ guard, he saw me laying there, wide open, with my guts piled onto two separate tables. He says he’s never seen anything like that outside of a horror film where a zombie gets disemboweled. (Lovely image, no?) No. It’s brutal. This entire process has been remarkably so.
Eventually, I get wheeled to a recovery room. I still can’t move my legs and my belly feels sore. Thank God my doula was there with me, otherwise, I would have been completely alone. It’s a very strange feeling to have gone through all that… to give birth and then not have a chance to hold your baby.
When they finally brought her to me, I was overjoyed. I took her into my arms and marveled at her fine features. Her little nose, her big eyes, her chubby cheeks… and her little hands. And just as I touched her little hand, one distinct middle finger rose up to greet me. I turned to my doula and said, “Is she seriously flipping me off right now?” And she burst out laughing because it was undeniably true. My precious daughter’s very first communication to me was to give me the bird! It was hilarious. And I thought to myself, “Oh, she’s going to love this story when she becomes a teenager!”