Known Johnson

September 8, 2005

Birth day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 7:32 pm

(So I’m a week and a half late with my report of Amanda’s birth.)

The hours leading up to the time we were to leave for the hospital for Alissa’s induction were probably the most uncomfortable hours I’ve ever spent. I didn’t know what to do – I walked around, cleaned things, put things away, cleaned some more . . . I really had no idea how to fill the time so I wouldn’t spend it simply thinking and figuring out the worst things that could possibly happen. I did anyway – there were still some spare moments in between cleaning this and organizing that.

As 10pm approached, the time the hospital said to call and see if they had a room open for us, I took a shower, figuring there was no telling when my next one would be – maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day. Alissa yelled to me over the shower that we were on, and then the nerves really began. Twenty minutes later, after calling both of our parents to let them know, we nervously struggled out the door with suitcase, pillows, and a bundle of cameras in tow. It felt strange knowing this was the last time we’d each be one of two people in this house. We each said goodbye to the cats as if we were going on a long vacation.

Amazingly, after all of the times we’ve been at the hospital filling out various forms twice a week for a month, and after Alissa had already sent in a bunch of forms she filled out at home, we still spent a good 20 minutes filling out more forms. It was hard enough just being nervous – I can’t imagine how difficult this would have been had Alissa actually been in labor.

Eventually we made our way upstairs to labor & delivery where a nurse lead us into a small room with a gurney and a chair and all the other assorted hospital-related paraphernalia. Alissa was hooked up to the fetal heartrate monitor, doppler unit, and a blood-oxygen measuring device that attached to her finger, and, after some explanation of what was to go on, the nurse applied the first of three applications of prostaglandin gel. And then we sat – the gel needed an hour to work on its own, after which we’d have to get up and walk around the hospital. And let me tell you – hospitals look really large on the outside, but once inside, with all the off-limits areas and rooms, you’re left with only a few corridors to walk through. When you’re told to walk for as close to an hour as possible, you traverse those corridors pretty quickly. We would do this three times. Luckily, by the third application at 4:30 am, things were moving along pretty well and Alissa was just too tired to walk too far. That was then we were moved into our labor/delivery/recovery (LDR) room. There would be no more walking, thankfully.

This was a much more spacious room, about double the size of the previous room. One wall, against which Alissa’s gurney was located, was painted a pale blue, and had a few small oak cabinets attached around it hiding various medical equipment inside. The other end of the room was much more hospital-like – sharps containers, baby warmer, non-descript trays, etc. We were going to be spending a lot of time in this room and I became very familiar with it. The chair I occupied wasn’t quite comfortable as a chair, but I quickly discovered that the lower part of it slid forward. I figured it was just a footrest, but the nurse showed me that the chair actually unfolded further into a bed – something I would desperately want to use, but nerves were unlikely to let me truly enjoy.

You become strangely used to sounds that were so exhilerating earlier in the pregnancy. After hours spent on the fetal heartrate monitor, filling the room with the fuzzy thub-dub of the baby’s heart, the sound simply became background noise. When I made myself aware of it, it was still amazing, but it didn’t enthrall immediately after a while – there were only brief moments of “That’s my baby!” Perhaps the knowledge that any time now we’d see that baby overshadowed the simplicity of the sound of a heartbeat.

Somewhere around 7am, the nurse came in and said that Alissa’s doctor had decided it was time to kick things into a higher gear and had ordered Pitocin in an IV drip for her. Pitocin is a man-made version of the body’s oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and, obviously, bring on labor. I had worried about this – having read a lot about induction in the days running up to that day, I knew that some women didn’t react well to it, or that it sometimes brought on a fast, heavy, extremely painful labor. But Alissa was okay with it, and it seemed the right thing to do at the time – who am I to second guess the doctor?

They started her off slowly, ramping up the amount of Pitocin in her drip over a couple of hours. After a short while it became pretty clear that labor was underway – Alissa began breathing, almost automatically, as the instructors in our labor classes had advised. In through the nose, hold it, slowly out through the mouth. And this is how it went for several hour s – very calm, quiet, almost unreal actually, as if this wasn’t really happening.

Somewhere around 11 am, Alissa’s doctor arrived and, after an uncomfortable moment checking her dilation which caused Alissa to yelp a little in pain for the first time that day, she decided it was time to break her water. The nurse produced a long, thin package inside of which was a narrow stick, at the end of which I knew was a tiny hook. This was snaked up into her uterus and pulled back, breaking the amniotic sac – and sending Alissa to the heights of pain instantaneously. I have never heard Alissa cry like I heard her cry over the next twenty minutes or so, and I don’t ever want to hear that again. I can only imagine the pain she was in, but it sounded excruciating. When the nurse asked if she wanted any pain medication, something she’d wanted to avoid, she could only nod as she sobbed. When the nurse mentioned getting an epidural, Alissa quickly seized on that – “Epidural, yes, YES! NOW!” Alissa had wanted to avoid an epidural if at all possible, but as she said several times, “I never imagined it would hurt this bad!”

Epidurals are kind of frightening sounding – a needle, a BIG needle, punctures the woman’s back at a certain point, deep down near the spinal cord, and a catheter is place right next to the cord. Drugs are pumped into the cavity between the cord and the vertebrae which causes everything from that point down to become numb. Done right, the pain of childbirth goes away within a shortwhile without making mom-to-be drowsy or drugged feeling in the least bit. Done wrong . . . well, it’s bad. Luckily, Alissa’s anesthetist, a Christian-Slater look-a-like, showed off his expertise, and had Alissa numbed from the waist down quickly. And by quickly I mean relatively quickly – he repeatedly reminded Alissa that it would take three full contractions before the effects would be noticeable, then one more where the pain was lessened, before the pain would be gone altogether. But when those four contractions were over, Alissa simple rolled over to her side, closed her eyes, and slowly fell asleep. And the epidural was all Alissa needed – she never felt any pain after the epidural took effect, allowing her to be clear-headed through it all.

Moms-to-be reading this: get the epidural. Alissa was frightened to death of this procedure but she now stands fully behind it. It allowed her to rest while managing to keep her fully aware and awake. Wouldn’t you rather actually enjoy your childbirth than spend it screaming and crying?

My parents arrived at the hospital shortly after this, and after checking with Alissa, I ran downstairs with them to the cafeteria to get some food. I felt more than a little guilty, as Alissa hadn’t been able to eat since checking in the night before, but I was keeping what the instructors had said in mind: I need to be strong enough to help Alissa through labor, and if I pass out from not eating for nearly 20 hours, I’m absolutely no good for anyone and just make a bigger mess, not to mention missing the birth of my baby. Dads-to-be reading this: eat something real when you get a chance – you’re going to need the energy. Moms-to-be reading this: let dad-to-be go eat.

I scarfed a so-so burger and fries down and got back upstairs in less than 15 minutes. When I arrived, I found the nurse at Alissa’s side, who said that we were just waiting for her doctor to arrive to begin pushing. Pushing? What? In fifteen minutes things had changed so rapidly that we were just a short while from seeing our baby?! I had envisioned hours and hours of this after her water was broken – not 90 minutes. In my mind, I had figured it would be late Monday night when our baby would be born – not the middle of the afternoon. Not that I was complaining . . . I was just taken aback. That was when I picked up my cellphone and called Alissa’s mom, urging her to head on down right now.

Shortly after that, Alissa’s nurse said it was time to start pushing, and I grabbed one of Alissa’s legs while a nursing student grabbed her other leg – she couldn’t feel them, so we’d need to help hold them open enough. It was only a short while later that her nurse told her to hold off on pushing, as the head was appearing and we needed to wait for the doctor – she said a few times that she simply could not deliver the baby.

It wasn’t too long before the doctor arrived, a peppy, smiling woman who burst into the room with a “Hello! Looks like we’re ready to have a baby!” The doctor warned that we had anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours ahead of us, and got her under way. To be honest, after this, it’s all a bit of a blur. Alissa pushed, big pushes, but it didn’t seem like all that many of them. She even agreed to one thing she’d said she didn’t want – a mirror to watch the progress, and I managed to do what I didn’t think I’d possibly be able to do: I looked down as the doctor said that the head was appearing. Alissa would push and there it was – at first a small quarter-sized circle of skin and wet hair, then it just grew larger and larger. Alissa pushed and, later, the doctor pulled, and eventually the head emerged in a surprisingly short amount of time. In a flash the baby was out, the baby was squawking and flailing – the baby was a girl!

“What’s her name?” the doctor asked as she thrust her, squirming, onto Alissa’s belly. Alissa looked to me, ensuring that we were both certain about the name, and I said, “go ahead,” and Alissa said, “Amanda Grace.” A moment later I was called back to reality by the doctor who offered some scissors to me, “Cut the cord, dad!” I was surprised how thick and strong it was, but with a little strength, it gave way. Amanda was on her own, and whisked away moments later to the baby warmer where nurses would examine her, clean her, weigh her, and get her wrapped up in something warm.

What’s amazing about all of this is that, once in the hospital, we were in our own enclosed world. While Alissa was in labor, hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf-coast states, and we were blissfully unaware of the severity of the damage for a couple of days – really, until we got home two days later and could unwind. Even after we were moved to our own private room, the news just couldn’t seep through – we were so wrapped up in starting life with Amanda that nothing could seem negative. Feeding, eating, sleeping, and learning what we could about keeping baby satisfied – that was our world. It was as if we were on a very tiring vacation in the world’s most expensive but least luxuriant hotel room.

For months before the birth, I’d been advised by friends and coworkers who’ve already been through this that all the stress, worry, and scariness of it all melts away – when it’s your own baby for which you’re going through all this. They couldn’t have been more right.

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