Birthing the baby dragon

Baby Pandra
This is Pandra. She looks almost exactly like her sister did at that age. It’s like we had twins four years apart.

It started with the strawberry pie.

They were fresh, local, in-season strawberries, and when I bought them I knew we couldn’t just eat the entire basket, so I decided I should make a strawberry pie. I put it off for a couple of days, but finally pulled some pastry dough out of my freezer, thawed it and rolled it out on the afternoon of Friday, June fifteenth.

But I wasn’t yet ready to eat the strawberry pie on Friday. Instead I put out an open invitation for people to join me in eating the pie on Saturday. Naturally, there were folks willing to partake in the pie, and so Saturday evening was devoted to pie eating before and after dinner, in the company of friends. It was a mighty tasty homemade strawberry pie.

We went to bed around 11:15 on Saturday night, much like any other night. I was uncomfortable, but no more so than I have been at night for months. I went to sleep and didn’t wake up for about an hour and a half.

At 1:15, I had strangely woken up on my own and heard Lyra’s door opening. She came out of her room to go to the bathroom. She was having trouble with her nightgown, so I got up to help her and put her back to bed with no real issue.

With Lyra back in her bed, I realized that my stomach was feeling kind of upset, and hoped it wasn’t because of the excess of awesome strawberry pie. When my stomach started cramping harder, I considered that it could theoretically be labour… or maybe not. I was too uncomfortable and awake to go back to bed so I went to sit on my computer for a while.

There wasn’t much going on online, it being 1:30am, and I was restless. I kept standing up and sitting back down, pacing up and down the hall, and just feeling crampy and yucky. At one point a friend sent me a message on Facebook asking what I was doing up, and I told him that it was possible — just possible, mind you — that I was in labour. Or my stomach was upset. After which I got up from the computer again and decided to run a bath and wake Adam up. It was 2 a.m.

I woke Adam to tell him that I was either in labour or had a really upset stomach. He wanted me to confirm which it was, naturally, but I wasn’t totally willing to do that yet. I told him I was going to run a bath and see if it helped me feel better, and that I was leaning towards it being labour, and he got out of bed.

The bath made me feel better, but it didn’t change anything otherwise. I kept rolling from one side to the other (beyond awkward in our tiny bathtub) and thinking that I wasn’t totally ready to be in labour yet. I finally caved and had Adam time the contractions, knowing that I had to come to terms with being in labour, since all signs pointed to it.

All the paperwork and instructions from the midwife suggested that we should call when contractions were regular, 4 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute each, or something along those lines. When Adam started timing them, they were pretty regular (two or three minutes apart) and anywhere from 30 – 45 seconds long. So they were close but short. I was confused – I had only really been in labour for about an hour or so, and I expected a longer build-up of occasional contractions and pre-labour and all of that. I did not expect to be having contractions so close together and so early into the process, even if they were shorter than they had to be.

I wasn’t yet ready to call the midwife. It wasn’t yet 4 a.m..

The contractions were already pretty strong, and I was wandering around from room to room trying to find a way to get comfortable. Adam woke up Lyra and called a friend to let her know that we’d probably be dropping the little girl off at her house around the corner, and then we decided to call the midwife. It was around then, I guess, that I wandered back to my computer and sent a tweet: Labour? Yeah, pretty sure it is. Ow. The internet tells me that it was 3:52 a.m. when I sent it.

Lyra is concerned
Lyra rubbed my back during contractions and asked me if I was okay. It was incredibly sweet.

I remember being on the floor in the office at one point with Lyra asking me if I was going to be okay. I remember telling her that I was going to be fine, and that the baby was coming. She was rather concerned, and wanted to help somehow, so Adam told her to rub my back. It was pretty much the sweetest thing ever.

We called the midwife at that point, and she talked to me for a few minutes before saying we should wait as long as we were comfortable before going to the hospital. I was fine with that and went back to my fast, short, close-together contractions while Adam packed Lyra up in the car and took her to our friend’s place down the street. I think he was worried to leave me alone, but I have to admit that before I noticed he was gone, he had come back.

I was in contraction limbo for the next couple of hours. I moved from the office to the living room on the couch. I would look out the window from time to time and be surprised to see that it had moved from the darkness of night to pre-dawn light to dawn when I wasn’t paying attention to it. Adam asked me a few times if I was ready to go to the hospital yet, and I kept putting it off. I must have given in sometime around 6 a.m. – I remember climbing into the car and thinking that I really wasn’t looking forward to the drive, but at least it was early on a Sunday morning so there wouldn’t be any traffic…

Onward to the hospital

The drive to New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital was uneventful (there were contractions; they weren’t fun), as was checking in to the hospital itself. We were put into the only labour and delivery room without a window and were told by a nurse that the midwife was on her way. We settled in for another round of contraction limbo and waited for the midwife, who didn’t arrive for a couple of hours I guess. I still had no sense of time, and with no window in the room I was beyond reality.

Stink, the octopus
This is Stink the Octopus, one of Lyra’s animals that she let me bring to the hospital so it could keep me company. Stink made me happy.

There hadn’t been much change by the time the midwife arrived. She checked me over and said that I was at 4 cm. They hooked up the monitor for the baby — since I was trying for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section) they have to monitor the baby for the entire span of labour — and put in an IV. Those are, I’m told, the primary differences between a VBAC and a vaginal birth for someone who hasn’t had a c-section. There are possible complications in a VBAC, so they prefer to be prepared with the IV, and they want to monitor the baby much more carefully than they would otherwise.

Once the monitor was hooked up, we could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Nonstop. For the entire duration of labour. We were to become very familiar with that 150 bpm sound…

The midwife also suggested I try dancing with Adam during contractions to help get through them. They were strong and required all of my focus. It seemed to help manage them, although I wouldn’t say it made them any less painful. It just made it easier to cope.

When they brought the hospital breakfast, I tried to eat some oatmeal, but everything made me queasy… or at least, contractions made me queasy. I stopped trying to eat after a few mouthfuls, knowing I would probably regret it later.

An unknown amount of time went by. At some point, the midwife checked me and said nearly nothing had changed, so she decided to rupture the membrane (aka break my water) in the hopes that it would move things forward. I swear it looked like she used chopsticks to do it. Once that was done, in theory, labour was supposed to move ahead — my cervix would dilate further, the baby would move down more into the pelvis, and we could go ahead and get the baby out of me.

In theory, anyway.

And then nothing changed for a long, long time

More time went by. The midwife kept checking on me and finding that, although I was still having regular contractions, nothing else was progressing. My cervix had basically stalled around 5 cm, I was utterly exhausted, and contractions were still every couple of minutes. And the baby’s 150 bpm heartbeat filled the room.

I guess sometime around 11 a.m. or noonish, the midwife offered an epidural so I could take a break. I had been having strong contractions nonstop every few minutes for around 11 hours. I remember holding on to Adam and saying “I just want a break”.

We didn’t have a birth plan beyond ‘have a baby at the end of the process’, so there were no preconceived ideas about going drug-free or no epidurals and so on. I was perfectly happy to take the midwife’s offer and get at least some form of rest before figuring out what to do next. So they called in the lady with the drugs and got me hooked up and lying on the bed. And I managed to get a bit of blessed sleep.

The in-labour epidural feels rather different from the one they did when I had the c-section with Lyra. I could still move my arms, and if I needed to I could move my legs a bit, although I wouldn’t have trusted myself to stand. With the c-section, I was completely without sensation from the upper chest down.

Variable intensity control
We were all pretty sure that if we played with that dial we could vary the intensity in the room, but we didn’t want to mess it up, just in case things got a little too intense.

I continued having contractions, but with the epi in I just didn’t feel them. It was a huge relief to get bits of sleep. I started to feel a bit hungry, but by this point the discussion had turned to the likelihood of my having to get a c-section if nothing progressed soon… It was starting to look like it might be the only option. The midwife decided to ask the on-duty doctor to come by and check me out (he who would be performing said c-section, should it go that way) for his opinion. She put in a call to have him stop by and see us.

We, however, were not at risk, by any stretch of the imagination. The baby’s heart rate was still going strong at 150, unchanged for hours. There was nothing specifically wrong… things just weren’t moving they way they ought to. That put us at the bottom of the list for the one doctor on the floor who had to visit a whole lot of other people — all of whom were having their own issues, more urgent than ours.

It was many, many hours of limbo before the doctor could make time to see me. By the time he did come in, I was starting to feel contractions again. I could only feel them on one side of my pelvis, which was weird. It started as pressure on the left side of my pelvis, and slowly, after a while, became more and more uncomfortable.

The doctor finally came by to see me. When he checked me out, he noted the same thing that the midwife had — I was still around 5 cm dilated, maybe 6 cm. He took a look at the scar from my previous c-section and commented on how invisible it was, then asked me who the doctor was that had done it. I couldn’t remember her name — I told him it was a woman in North Vancouver who had a really short name — and he guessed who it was. As soon as he said her name I confirmed it. He planned to tell her she did a great job the next time he saw her. I felt weirdly proud of my almost invisible c-section scar and the awesome doctor who did the work on me…

We discussed what was happening with me at that point, and where we thought things were going. The general consensus was that we were heading for a c-section, which I thought was both a disappointment and a relief. I was so very tired by that point I just wanted to have the baby out of me. It was late afternoon, and I hadn’t slept for more than a half an hour at a time since basically a day and a half earlier. And contractions are hard — they tire you out!

Time to try something else!

The doctor and midwife decided to try Oxytocin for two hours, just to see if that would get things moving the way they were supposed to. I was happy to give it a try, but also exhausted to think that it would be another two hours before we decided if I was having a c-section. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea, had come to terms with it, and was ready to move on.

And so they plugged me into the Oxytocin, and the contractions got stronger and more frequent. I was still under the epidural, but it was wearing off and I was starting to feel the contractions stronger as time went by. They were pretty painful, actually. A friendly nurse upped my epidural, but that didn’t help. She then brought me the nitrous. I was a big fan of the nitrous. It made anything and everything bearable — I could still feel the pain of the contractions as the epidural wore off more and more, but when I breathed through that Darth Vader mask of awesomeness it just didn’t matter so much. It made dissociation even easier than I usually find it — and I can be pretty good at dissociation.

And so it went for another 1.5 hours. But the baby… she didn’t like the Oxytocin so much. There were a couple of drops in her heart rate as the stronger contractions kicked in. Nothing that required an emergency intervention, but after it happened a few times, the nurse decided that we should stop the Oxytocin drip just to be on the safe side. She turned it off after about an hour and a half of Oxy time. The midwife came back from getting dinner, and I was feeling contractions basically full-on (the epidural had worn off almost entirely for pain relief). I was leaning on the nitrous tank to get through the contractions, which were stronger than ever.

I noticed during one particularly strong contraction that, even through the laughing gas, I was feeling an overwhelming urge to push. I didn’t, but when I came out of that contraction I told the midwife exactly that. She decided to check me again and see if anything had changed… and things had! I was actually at 10 cm dilation.

They called the doctor back in, and he confirmed things. Up until that moment, I had basically given up on the VBAC and was assuming things were going to c-section territory – we all had, including the midwife and the nurses. It was evening, I was exhausted, and when the doctor said that we should go ahead and deliver this baby in the usual way, I remember that I thought I don’t know if I can do that. I really didn’t want to have to recover from a c-section again, though, and there was no way I would express any doubts aloud at that point. Some part of me was still stubborn enough to see it through — and that part of me is louder than the tired, doubting, scared part of me was.

So it’s not going to be a C-Section after all?

I don’t really know what time it was by the time we decided to try and deliver the baby. I can only say that it was evening. Adam told me later, when I asked, how long I pushed for — not long, maybe half an hour — so it must have been after 8:00 p.m. when we made the final decision.

The first thing I had to do was get the baby to move down. She wasn’t where she should have been, and I could feel that she was in the wrong spot. I learned pretty quickly how to push — it involved a lot of holding of the breath — and I felt her position change. Every time I pushed, I could feel it when I was doing it right, because she moved and I could tell it was right. It was hard — so much harder than just coping with the contractions had been up to that point, and that wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

The midwife said something about having to make a cut because I was going to tear, and told me she was putting a topical freezing cream or something on. I’m not sure I would have noticed either way. I was both more inside my own body and more disconnected from pain than I had ever felt before. There was only moment after moment of push, then breath, then push, then breath, then take a break between contractions and refocus on what I knew was coming next. I was hyper-aware of my body and there was a lot of pain there, but my brain decided to brush it aside, force it to the back of my mind and just focus on the work that I had to do. Accept the pain and move on to what’s important: evict the baby from my body.

I could hear the conversation Adam and the midwife were having about the baby’s head showing, then going back, then showing again. It was strange, but motivating – I knew when I pushed and they saw the top of her head, I was doing things right and that it would be over at some point. There was no soon — there was only infinite now. But someday now would be not about evicting a baby.

When I finally pushed enough that she came out, it was like an intense pressure had just completely disappeared from my body. I was so relieved that, when they showed me the baby, I didn’t really care that I couldn’t see if it was a girl or a boy. I didn’t care that they were taking it over to check it out and make sure all was well. I didn’t even hear if they told me if it was a boy or girl. The baby cried, loud and strong, and I knew that she was okay, but I couldn’t really think. I could only feel, and all I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief that I was done trying to force a small person (who had proven throughout the day that she did NOT want to come out) through an even smaller opening in my body. I was relieved, I was happy, I was done with pushing (the placenta was a breeze after the baby experience) and that was all that mattered.

Jenny and baby Pandra
I finally had something to show for all of my hard work!

I got back on the nitrous while the midwife stitched me up. I remember making at least one joke… something about crazy hippies… and they gave Adam the baby while I underwent repairs. Our baby girl had been born, and she was healthy and looked exactly like her older sister did on the day she was born, which was weird. And I didn’t have to recover from a c-section this time around, which made me happy now that I wasn’t actually in labour anymore. She was born at exactly 9:00 p.m. on Father’s Day, June 17th. I had been in labour for 20 hours, and had slept for approximately 1 hour before I went into labour. I don’t think I’ve been so tired ever before. Adam didn’t look like he was in much better shape. But we had a new baby, so everything was lovely.

Naming the dragon

Lyra had us calling her new sibling Baby Dragon, so it only seemed right to keep a piece of that memory. We chose Pandra as the new baby girl’s name — a name that means chief dragon and is related to Pendragon. Her middle name, Galen, means calm — because that heartbeat just stayed the same, hour after hour, no matter what we seemed to throw at her. She was born at precisely 9:00 p.m. on Father’s day: Sunday, June 17th. I don’t think Adam minded giving up his Father’s day for that.

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