It seems like an opportune time for Juliette's birth story, no? I know some of you are cringing and clicking the back button already, but I swear there is not much grossness in this post. This is likely to be the longest post I will ever write, but I need to document as much as I can while it's still somewhat fresh in my mind. And I didn't want to spend the whole week breaking it up into parts. Besides, thirteen to fifteen years from now I'm going to need this info to lay a guilt trip on the kiddo. ;-)
On Saturday January 22nd, I was just shy of being 35 weeks pregnant. I went to pilates in the morning, thought about packing a hospital bag & reading some birth prep info, napped instead, ate dinner, watched tv & went to bed by 11pm. I wanted to be well rested for the next day, as we had plans to see the 3rd show in our Pantages season ticket package. It was a pretty typical, lazy day.
At 3am on Sunday January 23rd, I woke up with a backache. Figuring I may have pulled something in pilates I tried to adjust my sleep position. Nothing seemed to alleviate the pain though. By 4am I gave up on trying to sleep and went out to the living room. Initially, sitting up seemed to relieve my back, but then the pain would return. After nearly 45 minutes I realized that the pain was coming & going every 4 minutes and I frantically starting googling "back labor." I also had signs of bloody show. It wasn't long after that Google search that I frantically called Kaiser hospital's 24-hour advice line. I got transferred to a Labor & Delivery nurse who told me to come straight in if the pattern of back pain continued for 2 hours.
By that point, Eddie had woken up. I updated him as to what was going on. Then he went back to bed. Hmph. From 5-6am I timed my labor, which stayed at a steady 4 minutes between back contractions, while watching Say Yes to the Dress. At 6am I started throwing together a bag to take to the hospital. Luckily I had polled some mom friends a few weeks earlier on what they felt was essential, so I had a list written down already. I love packing lists, no matter the situation. At 6:30am I made myself somewhat presentable & woke up Eddie. Or rather tried to wake up Eddie. From bed he saw me standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom & told me to let him know when I was ready, then rolled back over. I promptly informed him that it was not a hair & makeup type of day & that we needed to leave asap. Within 15 minutes he was up, walked the dog & we were on our way.
Here is where Meltdown #1 occurred. We were in no way ready for a baby that wasn't supposed to arrive for another five weeks. I had no idea why I was in preterm labor. I knew that my OB, whom I adore & completely trust, was on vacation out of town. Cue the tears.
Around 7am we arrived at the L&D admitting office. They took down all my basic info, then sent me into a triage room where I got hooked up to monitors to measure my contractions and the baby's heartbeat. I also got flooded with fluids, in case dehydration was the culprit. Then I was given two doses of procardia, with the hope the medication would stop the contractions. No such luck. I was in some sort of denial at this stage, thinking that I might need to take the morning off work the next day or might need to be on bedrest for a while. The reality is that I was still contracting every 4 minutes, despite being dilated only1cm. They decided to complete the admissions process and I was on my way to a birthing suite by 10am.
The birthing suite was large & private with a huge bathroom and shower. I wish I had time to take advantage of it all, but back labor is excruciating. Every doctor & nurse I encountered said it's the worst type of labor pain except for pitocin-induced contractions. Yikes. By the time I got settled into the birthing suite, around 11am, I was dilated to 4cm. My 1st and most awesome nurse offered me an epidural. I had no qualms about saying "Yes please!" At 12pm, the nurse anesthetist arrived, Eddie was sent out of the room and I got into position to get the epidural. While I had heard many tales about the huge epidural needle, etc. what I hadn't heard was how much the local anesthesia prior to the epidural hurts. Holy shit that stuff stung like a mofo. I don't know if it was my inability to get into a good position or the nurse anesthetist's inability to do her job, but it took two attempts and nearly one hour to get that sucker in me. Once the epidural took effect, things were pretty blissful. I wasn't in pain and I could lay in bed watching tv to my heart's content. I was constantly on the phone, texting family, friends, & my boss (since by that point it was clear I wasn't going to be in at all the next day). I met the on-call OB, who was perfectly nice. I also met with a NICU doctor, just in case the baby would need to go there after birth, but he seemed optimistic that she wouldn't need to. The only bad thing at this point was the fact that I was starving. I had been on a very regimented diet that had me eating every 3 hours for gestational diabetes, but it was well over 12 hours since my last snack of greek yogurt. Around 5pm my nurse took pity on me and snuck me 2 orange-flavored sugar-free popsicles. At the time, those popsicles were as delicious as anything I'd ever eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I continued to get checked for progress and was pleased to find out I had dilated to 7cm. It seemed as if the baby would be born by midnight.
At 7pm, a new nurse came on duty and checked me again. I was still at 7cm. A couple hours later, I was still at 7cm. At midnight, I was still at 7cm. The doctor came in and told me he didn't want to do any interventions as long as me and the baby were still doing alright. He wanted the baby to incubate inside of me for as long as she could. While I appreciated his philosophy of letting my body & nature take their courses, I was starting to feel a little dejected. With the epidural still working its magic, I got as comfy as I could and tried to sleep.
On Monday January 24th, I woke up around 7am. I'd been in the hospital a full 24 hours. I was on to nurse #3. She checked me again around 9am and I was still at that blasted 7cm.
The new day meant a new OB on-call. I met her at 10am and welcomed her suggestion to try a little pitocin to see if they would intensify my contractions a little bit. Since I already had an epidural, the pitocin-pain I had heard about wouldn't be a factor. At 11am, there were some scary moments where the baby's heart rate dipped dramatically low for seemingly no reason. I started preparing myself to hear "We need to do a c-section," but the OB waited it out a minute or two and the baby's heartbeat got back up to normal. At 12pm I got checked again to see if the pitocin was working. I was still at that blasted 7cm!
Here is where Meltdown #2 occurred. I was starving & exhausted. I hadn't progressed in 17 hours. I didn't know how much longer I could keep myself together enough to actually push this baby out, whenever that would be. Thankfully Eddie was a fantastic coach and got me through the tears.
Shortly after noon, the OB returned and asked if I'd consent to letting her break my water. I said yes. It seemed to have a quick effect, as I started feeling enough pressure within the hour to request a booster for my epidural. By 1pm I had dilated to 9cm and was feeling a lot of pressure. I also started trembling violently. I had the shakes for a solid hour. By 2pm I was finally at 10cm and started pushing. I also started hating nurse #3 who kept telling me I wasn't pushing hard enough. I really wanted to tell her to STFU and/or kick her in the head. At 3pm, after several rounds of pushing, the baby's head was right at the exit point, yet just wouldn't go through. For a girl who decided that she wanted to come into the world early, this kid sure took her sweet ass time about it. Sheesh. Around 3:15pm the OB came in, followed by a team from NICU. After another round or two of pushing, the OB asked if I'd like some vacuum assistance. I took her up on the offer and Juliette entered the world at 3:32pm, after 34 hours of labor, weighing 5lbs 13oz and measuring 19-1/2 inches.
Here is where Meltdown #3 occurred. I wasn't in tears, but I was in silent fear because the baby was not letting out a robust cry. In fact, she wasn't making much noise at all. After being placed on my chest for a nanosecond, she was whisked to the area of the room set up for the NICU team. Everyone was so quiet & focused on what they were doing it freaked me out. The OB tried to reassure me that everything was fine, but I wouldn't be convinced unless I heard her cry. The baby finally did let out a cry, but it sounded wrong, like she was gasping. So off to NICU she went while I got cleaned up and stitched. I had a small 2nd degree tear, but it wasn't anything that I felt at the time.
By 5pm I was being transferred out of the birthing suite and on my way to a recovery room. The recovery room was also private, but it was small and I had to share the bathroom. Yuck, especially with all the stuff happening downstairs if you know what I mean. I had hoped we could go to the NICU right away, but I had contracted a slight fever post-birth. By 7pm the fever was gone and we started walking down the hallway to see our daughter.
These are Juliette's first photos. They are still a little hard for me to look at even now that a few months have passed. She had to be intubated right after birth and when we first saw her we could immediately tell that she hated those darn tubes and wanted them out. She was so unhappy, fighting the tubes, and there was nothing we could do other than hold her tiny IV-attached hand.
The NICU staff was fantastic. They encouraged us to be as hands-on as we could and had an open-door policy for visits.Thankfully by our second visit later that evening, she was no longer intubated and had only a nasal cannula. Finally, we could hold her. Or rather, I could hold her. I don't know if he was scared by how small and fragile she was or if he just wanted me to have my time with her, but Eddie let me do all the holding that first night.
By the next morning, Tuesday, Juliette was off of breathing assistance altogether. She had a bath and someone dolled her up in an adorable hat.
We spent most of that day visiting with the baby in NICU. She was doing well, but the doctors wanted to observe her that extra day just to be sure. During this time we got an odd visit from the hospital social worker who interviewed us in an attempt to see if there were any factors of concern that may have played a part in Juliette's premature birth. In essence, they were trying to find out if I was a crackhead, if Eddie abused me or if we were broke. :-/ After finding out about our levels of education, my employer and believing we're financially secure, the social worker quickly wrapped up her visit. On Wednesday morning we found out that Juliette had jaundice and would need time under the UV lights, so her discharge would be postponed at least a day.
I got discharged late Wednesday afternoon.
Here is where Meltdown #4 occurred. Up to that point I was relatively okay with the fact that our baby was in NICU and would not be coming home right away. I found comfort in the fact that she was being carefully monitored and looked after by professionals who knew exactly what they were doing and had far more experience with babies than I did. I knew that she was improving leaps & bounds with each day and was one of the strongest babies in the NICU. I knew she'd be home soon. But it felt so.damn.wrong being wheeled out of the hospital without our baby in my arms.
The first thing I did after getting home (other than giving Jack a million scratches behind his ears & pats on the head) was take the longest, hottest, best shower of my life. After a quick nap and dinner it was back to the NICU. Then it was back home, where I slept uninterrupted for the first time in days. On Thursday we (mostly Eddie) spent the morning and early afternoon cleaning the house and trying to get the nursery together. I made some phone calls to get my short-term disability claim & maternity leave going and then we spent the rest of the day back at the NICU. Juliette's jaundice levels had come down, but she still needed to complete her hearing and car seat test, both of which were scheduled for Friday morning. Before noon on Friday we got the call that Juliette was ready to come home. After a quick lunch we headed out for the hospital, stopping to make a trip to Babies R' Us for all the essentials.
Getting discharged from NICU seemed to take forever, but it was well worth the time. I had been having major issues with breastfeeding, so one of the RNs worked with me for a long time, trying different techniques. She was better than any of the LCs who had visited me, but alas, my boobies were still uncooperative. We met with the baby's pediatrician, who I had met a year earlier in my pilates class (doesn't that sound so yuppie?). We got loaded up with diapers, bottles, nipples, pacifiers, etc. Several of the nurses came by to say goodbye to Juliette. We also got a certificate with her teeny footprints imprinted on it, as well as the artwork that decorated her bassinet. One of the NICU nurses does a drawing for each baby that comes into the unit.
At 7pm, we were finally on our way home. All three of us. :-)
Now, I didn't have much of a birth plan during my pregnancy other than "Go to hospital. Have baby." However, there were some things that I knew would be out of my control, but that I hoped to avoid:
1. I didn't want to go into labor before reaching full term.
2. I didn't want to have a long labor, only to end up with a c-section.
3. I didn't want to have a baby in NICU.
Um, yeah. The only part of that I avoided was a c-section. I guess one could compare that list to what actually happened and say that I must have had a bad birth experience. My feeling on the matter, however, is that my birth experience was not ideal but it was still good. The hospital staff in L&D and in NICU was fantastic. They were caring, respectful, reassuring & always kept us informed of what was happening. I felt that my feelings were a priority and that no one tried to push me into doing anything I didn't want to. Even after we were home we received follow-up calls from the nurses (and my OB once he was back from vacation) to make sure things were okay and to answer any questions that may have arisen. The process may not have been perfect, but the end result certainly is: