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LEADING UP TO THE BIRTH

April 18, 2009

It’s been hard, to say the least, to get anything posted on the blog since the baby came. During most spare moments during the day, I must do something important, like look for the housekeys I lost due to sleep deprivation. Or look for my spare housekeys, which I have also lost.

Or do something crucial, like try to get a nap in, generally to the tune of escalating hunger squeaks, then coughs, then cries, of a waking baby with an eager tummy.

Or do something hypothetical, like wonder why no one ever coaches the baby, “You know what you need to do, right? Sleep when Mommy sleeps.”

If you are a parent, you undoubtedly know the correlative phrase well: well-wishers of all shapes and sizes almost sternly admonish you to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Chances are that you, like your baby, would get a lot more sleeping done if your meals were delivered directly into your mouth as you snuggled on a pillow in a near dream state, and you were not interested in keeping “going to the bathroom” a literal phrase. Or if the word on the street was that you really only needed to bathe once visible cheese had accumulated in the creases of your wrists.

I digress.

The weeks leading up to Henry’s birth were largely uneventful. And I do mean, LARGELY, ba dumbum. As I came closer and closer to 4 digits on the scale, I fell into a pattern of going to one of the three obstetricians every few days

1. to see whether Henry was breech again (he was not)
2. to see whether his head had descended into my pelvis (nope)
3. to see whether I had become effaced or dilated yet (uh, no)

Another thing they do at these appointments is to look for signs of pre-eclampsia – a condition where the placenta, the organ invented during a pregnancy to nourish the baby, starts to deteriorate in function. Pre-eclampsia is indicated by elevated blood pressure, protein in urine, headaches, and visual disturbances. For the sake of a baby and the sake of a mom, it is important to avoid.

Most of the time, I’d leave the dr.’s appointment with no signs of a problem, nor any signs that I was any closer to having the baby. “Honey, at this point, MY cervix is riper to give birth than yours is,” explained the gayest and funniest obstetrician in the practice. I liked his humor, except, huh. Time was marching on, and I simply did not seem ready to give birth, though it’s all I thought about. Was I having cramps? Was there any sort of unusual and meaningful feeling in my belly?

One thing that the labor classes tell you is that you don’t want to show up at the hospital before you are really ready – going into the part of labor where you want to bite people. The doctors I was seeing advise patients not to leave for the hospital until they are screaming in raw animal pain. Why? You will get sent home, and getting sent home is bad for morale. Also, in our case, home is about an hour away from our hospital of choice. So if there’s one thing you know, it’s that you shouldn’t see the inside of the hospital until it is time to have the baby!

However, during a routine appointment at week 38, my blood pressure was a bit high. A sign of pre-eclampsia? “Well, at the hospital,” another obstetrician calmly explained, without leaping about the room in a crazy anticipatory dance, or frankly even looking me in the eye, “they have a lab. It’s faster to get some the bloodwork done there.” Sure, they have labs in hospitals. But he didn’t indicate in any direct manner, YOU MIGHT HAVE THE BABY LATER TODAY, so my husband and I didn’t get it.

This was something we would come to understand more and more during the process. You are having a baby, but everyone who is helping you has a job where they help people have babies every day, so it’s hard for them to muster the sense of wonder and urgency that you are feeling. It’s frankly sort of hard for them to muster anything at all: unlike they experience you are having, they’re just at work.

“So . . . what time should I tell my office I’ll be back?” my husband asked. The OB shook his head. Then looked me. “You may have pre-eclampsia, and the cure for preeclampsia during week 38 is getting the baby out. There is a chance you will get sent home from the hospital. But a better chance that you will have your baby overnight.”

We explained to him that we didn’t have any of our bags. This, as it turns out, means exactly nothing to the medical community.

After all of our carefully concocted plans to bring an iPod with the correct music and the birth ball and 5 extra pillows and all of my carefully chosen pajamas and the camera and the copy of Great Expectations that we read aloud to one another . . . and my snacks . . . I’m sorry, you just want us to GO?

The truth is that to have the baby, you just need you.

The baby?

Huh. The baby. I’d thought of little other than having a baby for months — for like, a year — but faced with actual possibility that it might really arrive, I was just sort of blank. With the details of the PREGNANCY overwhelming me from every angle, and the potentialities and possibilities of BIRTH, I hadn’t been able to think about the outcome – the baby – for a while. I’d gone through a time when whenever I’d drive I’d picture the money shot, the moment of eeking out the baby, with attendant pile of slick goo slithering out shortly thereafter, and I’d hear it let out its first lusty wail, and someone would say, “you have a . . .” whatever I was going to have, and they would put the baby on my chest, and I would say the first sentence to welcome the baby into the world, into my arms, into our lives, but in the middle of my sentence, I’d have to stop, because I’d be overcome with a sob. And I wouldn’t just sob in my daydream, I would sob in the car.

However, these reveries were all before week 38. It was when I was less tired, still small enough to drive the car, 10 pounds lighter. It was when my maternity clothes still fit, and I didn’t have to order 2 desserts at a time. But at a certain point, I was just marching forward as the carrier of the baby and I could not even hold a particularly excited thought about the birth anymore, anything more complex than “When . . .will . . . this . . . come. . . out.” Or, “Will it hurt wicked bad?” Or, every day after dinner – “do not let me go into labor tonight, I am far too tired.” Birth vs. baby is like the difference between a wedding and a marriage: easy to lose sight of the big picture in all of the commotion, and I had lost sight of the baby and could only consider the birth. And when faced with the birth, I guess I sort of wanted to procrastinate.

The dr.’s office is on 43rd street and before going to the hospital, we stopped at Grand Central to get a book. I’d heard that there was a great coffee shop in there and wanted to look around for it. We’d been told I could have a light snack . . . where should we go?

Matthew finally reminded me that we had to get to the hospital, and started in the direction of the subway. He figured we could take the shuttle across and then the A train up to 59th street. “You want me to take the TRAIN to the HOSPITAL?” I was fake-scandalized but secretly delighted, since I could tell everyone that I took the subway to the hospital to have the baby, and it was clearly the best way to travel there at rush hour.

And, after months of deferential treatment by the traveling masses, no one gave my big jouncing stomach and I a seat. Even better, since the trip wasn’t long and it added to the drama of the NOW I AM HAVING A BABY narrative unfurling in my head. When I walked into the hospital lobby, someone crossing the lobby to leave looked me up and down and exclaimed “I hope you make it upstairs in time!” Sort of rude, but also, exciting. I was ready to have a baby! And everyone could tell!

We checked into triage. I liked the nurses and they set me up with a series of monitors.

In case you haven’t been in this situation, I will explain what the baby monitor is like: you take off your normal clothes in order to put on a hospital Johnny. You are handed a garment – and in this instance garment should probably be in quotes — that looks like gigantic granny-style underpants without a crotch. It is a tube. You know it has to do with having a baby since pink and blue things are knitted into it the white fabric, so it looks like a newborn hat. Except you could get 30 newborn hats out of that amount of material. After the nurse stretches the tube out enough – and that takes a while – you pull it delicately up around your huge, huge belly and then recline, on your back, in the bed. The tube holds monitoring devices close to you so the heartbeat of the baby and also, your contractions, can be recorded onto a spool of paper that drops to the floor and someone periodically comes in to nod at apprasingly, then fold into a neater pile. However, this was set up by someone normal, not someone 9 mos pregnant, since being reclined on your back is so uncomfortable at that point. If you shift position, like if you try to sit up so that heartburn acid doesn’t shoot out of your mouth like a fountain and your uterus isn’t crushing you, then the monitors can shift and things are not properly recorded and someone will come in and look at the flat lines on the paper and either give you the stinkeye and tell you have to recline again, or they will tell you nicely.

And you cannot eat, or even take Tums.

In my case, since the baby hadn’t descended, and I was not at all dilated or effaced, they recommended a c-section since an induction would likely end in a lot of labor, then surgery anyhow, under those circumstances.

It is not possible to have a c-section until it’s been 8 hours since you ate. A certain set wil find me evil for saying it but that evening, I was far less concerned about the vagaries of surgery–something I was relatively unfamiliar with and had grown accustomed to the idea of when the baby was breech–than I was the immediate and escalating discomfort of heartburn leading to sleeplessness and barfing, which was my specialty. The heartburn was just going to escalate if I couldn’t eat, which I couldn’t, and it was going to be a long, long night, the prospect of which was exhausting. And when I was through, someone would hand me a baby, and I would never sleep again.

Crap.

Except, I was not to have the baby. After being in the hospital for a short period of time, and having my sinking blood pressure andtotally normal blood tested, it became clear that I wasn’t pre-eclamptic, and I was sent home, with nothing but a whale-sized container in which to collect my urine for the next 24 hours, and a heightened sense of anxiety about how uncomfortable the hospital beds were going to be when I did manage to have the baby.

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