Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How Baby Ess got here

A few of you have asked for the story of how Ess came to join us three weeks ago today. Since we're at the halfway point between her birthday and her due date (which was June 21), it seems like an appropriate time to tell the tale... that is, if she cooperates and continues to snooze blissfully on her father's chest.

So, three-and-a-half weeks ago, on Saturday the 7th, I started feeling funky in the afternoon, with a constant dull pain in my lower left abdomen. I didn't think much of it, especially since digestive issues were the bane of my pregnancy. But it was irritating enough that I sent D down to the corner bakery for some ginger beer -- and when he returned with that and a chocolate chip cookie, I turned down the cookie(!). I continued to feel crummy that afternoon and evening, but we went ahead with our plans -- dinner out with friends, and then a stop at another friends birthday party. I was achy and uncomfortable, but never thought it was anything important.

Then the pain woke me up in the middle of the night. At 1:30 am, I was at the computer, Googling "third trimester abdominal pain" and not getting much in the way of useful answers. I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in the guest room. By Sunday morning, the discomfort had turned to pain, and it was starting to occur in surges. But it still never occurred to me that it was contractions, largely because the pain was so localized; I was sure that contractions would be broader, across my whole belly.

At some point that morning, I called my doctor's answering service. The midwife on call thought the baby might be in a funny position, that I might be feeling her head, and advised me to spend some time on my hands and knees, and on my side, to encourage her to move. That didn't help, and the surges of pain got worse. Somewhere in there D and a friend went off to run the course of the road race they'll be doing later this summer; I said I'd be fine while they were gone. When D returned, and I was still having some moments of pretty powerful pain, he and my sister, who had come over to keep me company, convinced me to call the doctor again. This time, the midwife consulted with my doctor, and together they decided that I should go to the hospital to get checked out. The assumption at this point was that I had a urinary tract infection, that they'd treat it and send me home.

That, of course, is not what happened.

I was admitted to the Birth Center, where they tested me for a UTI (negative) and hooked me up to a fetal heart monitor and a contraction monitor. Lo and behold, I was having steady, minor contractions. And when they examined me, they determined that I was one centimeter dilated. At this point, things started to speed up. The resident mentioned, in the midst of a flurry of information about how they were going to treat me, that I'd be in the hospital for at least a few days. D and I were in a bit of shock at that point -- we thought the options were (a) get antibiotics and come home; or (b) have an emergency c-section on the spot. Option (c), stay in the hospital for a while, never occurred to us.

So we settled in. Luckily I had a private room, with a great view of The Big Mountain in the State West of Us, so we could be at least a little comfortable. I was confined to bed, with an IV pumping both fluids and magnesium, to stop the contractions, into me. The side effects of magnesium can be miserable, but I was lucky enough not to feel much more than exhaustion.

At some point -- and this is where the details of time and date start to get fuzzy, but I think it was Monday evening -- the nurse was in checking things out. I took the opportunity to unplug from the monitors and go to the bathroom. When I came back and plugged back in, the nurse became very attentive and even more calm than she already was. The baby's heartrate, it turned out, had dipped very low -- usually in the 130-150 range, it was down below 90. In a matter of seconds, other nurses showed up at the door, I had an oxygen mask on my face and was told to lay down on my side immediately. The heartrate recovered, but not as fast or as well as the nurses would have liked.

Then, later that night, the contractions came back. None of this was very much fun.

Overnight, the baby's heartrate decelerated a few more times when I'd get up to go to the bathroom. I was sent for an ultrasound on Tuesday to check out the position and health of the umbilical cord -- the theory being that me standing up caused the baby to crimp the cord or something. All was well, and by Wednesday morning I'd gone more than 24 hours without a deceleration. D was hanging out with me, waiting for my doctor to come in and discharge me; the plan was that I'd be on bed rest at home until I hit 36 weeks (which would have been last Thursday).

But Ess had other ideas. In mid-morning, her heartrate slowed one more time. "You've just bought yourself another night in the hospital," my nurse said. But she also wondered if my doctor would just send me home, since it's possible that the decelerations had been happening throughout the pregnancy and we just didn't know it.

So D and I were more than a little stunned when my doctor showed up at about 12:15 and told us that, after conferring with the head of the maternal/fetal high risk team, she'd decided that they needed to deliver me -- that day. I'd been given a steroid injection on Sunday, to help the baby's lungs mature in case of just this circumstance, and their feeling was that she was far enough along that it was riskier to keep her in the womb, and risk further decelerations, than to bring her out early. Since I'd just eaten something, she figured they'd do the c-section at about 5 or 6 that night.

D started making calls -- to his parents, my parents, and my sister. And while he was on the phone, the room filled up with people. The anesthesiologist had decided it was ok to go ahead and do the surgery now; with an OR free, and all the necessary staff available, they thought it was better to just do it under non-emergency circumstances than to wait for the afternoon, possibly have me experience another deceleration and do it on an emergency basis. Still, the rapidity with which it occurred made it feel like an emergency to us.

Within 45 minutes, I was in the yellow operating room, crying as a team of women -- doctors, nurses, the anesthesiologist -- prepped me for surgery. D wasn't allowed to come in until I'd been given the spinal and was lying down on the table; those 15 minutes or so of being apart were the worst part for both of us. But then he came in, wrapped in scrubs, and sat by my head. The surgery itself was surreal -- D and I just chatted; I think at one point we talked about the dogs, because what the heck are you supposed to talk about in the 20 minutes while your belly is being cut open so your daughter can be pulled out? My doctor complimented me on the muscle tone in my abs as she sliced through them(!), and at some point Darren brought up the idea of using the name of our friend who died in December as Ess' middle name. I loved it immediately.

And then there was the warning that I'd feel a lot of pressure, and then the squawk of Ess as she emerged at 1:43 pm -- just 90 minutes after we learned she'd be arriving that day. The doc dangled her over the screen so I could see her for a brief moment, then she was whisked off to be evaluated by the neonatologists. D went over to cut the cord, and I waited for what seemed like the interminable end of the surgery. At some point, one of the nurses brought her over, all swaddled and warm, so I could see her. She held Ess to my cheek; I kissed her and cried. Then she was whisked away again, this time to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she'd stay for the next three-and-a-half days.

I spent an hour in recovery back in my nice private room, then was moved to a smaller, shared room in the Family Center, in an older wing of the hospital. Later that evening, I slowly and painfully got into a wheelchair and D brought me to the NICU to see her.

Astonishingly, that all seems like it happened a long time ago. Ess has been home for 10 days now, and we are starting to establish a routine -- at least, as much of a routine as you can have with a three-week-old baby. Her arrival was certainly not how we'd expected it to be -- in fact, once I came home from the hospital, I had my mom go to the bookstore to exchange the natural childbirth book I'd bought the day before I went into the hospital for one on breastfeeding -- but it all turned out ok. The theory about the decelerations is that they were due to her short umbilical cord; there was no other explanation for it. So she's here, much earlier than we expected, but fortunately healthy and, as far as we can tell, happy. As are we. Exhausted, but happy.