Today, November 28th, is Graham’s birthday. He is seven. I have written so much about him that I have created his own category here on my blog (scroll down on the right hand side for the categories). What I haven’t written about is his birth story. It is a story I have told countless times and have written about in my journal, but not one I have told here. It’s time. Don’t worry, no blood and guts, just the story of having Graham.
My pregnancy with him was easy. I felt sort of yucky for the first few months but only at night and was never very sick. I had some food aversions (salad) and some cravings (citrus juice) and I didn’t gain too much weight or retain water or develop hypertension. Easy all things considered. My due date was December 3rd and once I passed into my 38th week, I breathed a big sigh of relief – he could come any time and would be fine.
On the morning of November 27th, I woke up at 7:30am to a contraction. I had had a few before but I knew this was different. I lifted my head to look at the clock and note the time. Then I waited. If another didn’t come – it was just a teaser. But about ten minutes later, another came, just like the first. I woke Randy and we called my doctor. She told me to wait until they were five minutes apart and then call her again, so I spent the morning eating breakfast, taking a shower and packing my bag with a stopwatch in my hand the entire time. I was scared, I was excited. I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday and also to tell her that we would not be attending her birthday dinner that night as I would most likely be delivering a baby.
When it came time to leave for the hospital, we had a She’s Having a Baby moment. I was sitting calmly in the living room, packed bag by my side, and Randy was running all over the house trying to find his wallet and keys. After a few minutes of male hysteria, we were on our way. We had done a practice run to the hospital so we knew exactly how to go and this happened to be a Saturday so traffic was light. We were there in no time. The night before had been a full moon so there were no rooms immediately available – it turns out that more babies really are born on full moon nights. They hooked me up to monitors in the triage area and our long day of waiting officially began. I had some fear of being turned away at the hospital and told to labor more at home, this had happened to people I knew, but I was already 3 centimeters dilated when we arrived. The nurse told me I would not be leaving without a baby.
The next few hours went by quickly. The pain from the contractions was intense but not terrible. I got moved into my room. Periodically a nurse would check me and I was still 3 centimeters dilated (you need to get to 10 before you can start pushing). I got in the tub at one point, just for something else to do and also to help ease the pain in my back. My brother Michael was living in New York at that time and had been home for a Thanksgiving visit. My parents brought him by the hospital on the way back to the airport. He took one look at me and said, “You look like shit.” I told him, “Maybe that’s because I’m in labor.” Oh, the sensitive male.
The afternoon progressed. My doctor, who was fortunately on call that weekend, came in to check me and when I was still stuck at 3 centimeters dilated, she told me it was time to walk. Randy and I took an hour long stroll in the hospital halls, the pain getting more intense as we went. At each contraction, we stopped, I held my arms around his neck, and we swayed back and forth. Almost as though we were dancing. We had learned this trick in our lamaze class and somehow that swaying and the rhythm of it calmed me. I started to worry. If I was feeling this much pain at 3 centimeters, how was I going to make it much further? Natural childbirth was not something I had considered. I applaud women who go that route but my feeling is that if there is a safe way to ease the pain of what is known to be one of the most painful things in the human experience, I wanted to take advantage of it.
When we finally made it back to the room they checked me and I was 6 centimeters dilated. No wonder it hurt so much – I had dilated 3 centimeters in an hour. Time for the epidural. A nurse told me that the anesthesiologist was with another patient and could I wait 5 minutes? Yes, I could wait 5 but I literally could not wait 6. Fortunately, he walked in about a minute later and in another few minutes, I was feeling those contractions but without pain. An extraordinary relief came over me.
Afternoon moved into evening and I kept dilating. Around 9pm, my doctor checked me and said that in another half hour, I would start pushing. The hospital where I delivered has birthing suites which means that the room you start in is the room you end in. There is no labor and delivery room – it all happens in your room. They are set up like hotel suites and the overall effect is very pleasant. As we counted down that last half hour, we turned the lights down to a nice soft low, put on some Miles Davis, and prepared to meet our son. We had put very little in our birth plan – just that we wanted to avoid a c-section if possible and that we wanted as few people in the room as possible. No friends, no family, and certainly no interns. So when the time came, it was just me, Randy, my doctor, and one nurse.
I pushed once. I pushed twice. After the third time, my doctor’s eyes jumped to the machine that was monitoring Graham. I will never forget her voice saying, “Come on little guy. Come on.” And then, “We’re out!” His heart rate had plummeted and not recovered and so, in a matter of seconds, we were in the OR with a bright lights and a flurry of people. I was crestfallen. I had just made it through 15 hours of labor, only to have a c-section? I was also terrified. Was he all right? Surgery? I had never had surgery. My doctor promised me that, once they got me all hooked back up, if he had recovered and kept his heart rate up, we could resume pushing. But we had to stay in the OR just in case.
He did recover and I did resume pushing and slowly, all the extraneous people melted away. It was once again just me, Randy, my doctor, and a nurse, but now I was in the OR with its antiseptic atmosphere and bright lights. I was not allowed even an ice chip as surgery was possibly imminent. Thirst started to make itself known. But truly I didn’t care. I kept pushing. I did not feel the pain of the contractions but I did feel them and I could also feel the toll they were taking on my body. An hour went by and he still had not descended. After the second hour went by, my doctor looked at me and said, “I’m sorry Dana, but I think we have to do the c-section.” I had read or heard somewhere that doctors at this hospital will let you push for three hours before they do a c-section so I begged her for another hour. She relented and I spent another tortured hour just trying to get him to budge at all. My doctor said that if I got him to a certain point, she could use forceps to get him out. But I could not even do that much.
The end of the third hour came and I was beyond exhausted. I was also very worried. Why was he not coming out? Was he all right in there? At this point, I just needed to see him and I did not argue when she said it was time for the surgery. A drape was set up, more doctors and nurses came back in. I begged the anesthesiologist to give me something to prevent nausea (I am more afraid of throwing up than labor contractions), and then a dreadful feeling came over me. When I say beyond exhausted, I truly mean it. I felt like I was lying at the bottom of the ocean with the weight of all that water resting on me. I could barely move and I would have sold my soul for a glass of water.
The actual surgery is blurry for me. Randy watched (which surprised me) and I just tried to hang on and stay conscious. They pulled him out and I remember that he did not cry. That worried me. A nurse whisked him off to get cleaned up and when they finally did bring him over to me to see him, my little Graham who I had been waiting nine months to meet, I could hardly turn my head to look at him. My voice just a croak, I asked how much he weighed and was surprised to hear that he was just 6 pounds, 13 ounces. Not a big baby at all. I couldn’t push him out? Randy got to hold him as they stitched me back up, surely the worst part of the surgery. Of course, I didn’t feel pain, but I could feel them tugging at me and I started to feel really sick. I begged the anesthesiologist for more nausea medicine – after all this, the last thing I needed was to throw up. Fortunately, it worked and I started to feel better.
I learned that Graham was born at 12:40am. This meant that he was not going to share a birthday with my mom after all but have his very own, November 28th. I also learned that his blood sugar was low and they gave him formula immediately and did not bring him to me that night. I don’t remember much else except soreness, fear, and complete exhaustion.
The next morning, the pediatrician on call came in to tell me how he was doing. I had to keep slapping myself in the face to keep from falling asleep. He had a somewhat rocky start, including jaundice and a few days under the lights, but never had to be in the NICU. My grandmother’s mother died in childbirth and now I understood how easily that could happen in the days before c-sections. Graham surely would have died and I might have as well. It was a sobering thought and one I tried to hang on to whenever I had feelings of failure about the c-section.
My recovery was rough. I had been through full labor and pushing, followed by major abdominal surgery and it took me a while to come back from that. But of course I did and I also made it through the first couple of weeks of breast-feeding when I thought I would cry my eyes out before we finally got the hang of it.
Seven years ago. There have been times that I have looked back to those moments in the OR and wondered if it was my stubbornness that caused Graham to have the issues he has had. If I had just gone ahead with the c-section right away, would he be typically developing? I have barely dared voice this question aloud but when I have, I get a resounding “no”. No one knows, and probably no one will ever know, why Graham is the way he is. I had some bleeding in my second trimester and it is more likely that something happened then than at birth. Still, even these many years later and even though I know better, I torture myself with this question. Guilt is a complicated thing.
It is hard for me to believe but now I have a first-grader. He is tall and lanky and has none of the baby fat that was once so much a part of his face. He is pretty darn cute and pretty darn sweet. We had his teacher conference last week and his lovely teacher told us that he is doing great. She adores him. She showed us some of the terrific work he is doing. She mentioned that although he struggles with some things, he seems to get other things on a deeper level. The class did a big segment on Veteran’s Day and she encouraged the children to write a note to a soldier. She had stationary set up for them to use when they wanted. She saved Graham’s note for us. It read, “Dear Soldier, Please do not give up. Love, Graham”. That made me cry a little.