Despite all the forecasting, guessing and planning, babies have a funny way of defying expectations and arriving on their own timeline. That couldn’t have been more true in my case as we awaited the arrival of our baby boy just over six weeks ago.
Rewind to December. My 37-week ultrasound made it clear that our little guy wasn’t looking so little. My doctor wanted to schedule an induction for no more than 3 days past my due date out of precaution for his estimated size. And go figure, Nolan was in no rush to come on his own, so it’s a good thing. On the evening of December 26, my husband Evan and I headed to the hospital to start the induction process.
So what exactly is an induction? In layman’s terms (to be clear, I am no doctor), it’s medical intervention to kickstart labor. Depending on how much the mother’s body is showing preparedness for labor, you may need a more involved overnight induction or simply can jump into a Pitocin drip. While I had been told I’d likely need an overnight induction, the first of many surprises was to find out I arrived at the hospital 3 centimeters dilated (if you’re new at this, you give birth at 10 cm). The doctor started the Pitocin drip and said things should start progressing relatively quickly. It was 8pm.
By midnight, my contractions were picking up. I had joked that my so-called birth plan was pretty simple: get an epidural, so the nurses said there was no reason why I shouldn’t get one at the onset of uncomfortable contractions. By 2am on the 27th, I figured I had gutted out enough discomfort to understand what labor feels like and green-lighted the epidural. The anesthesiologist arrived relatively quickly and administered it without issue. Within five minutes, I felt a rush of warmth take over my body, but primarily on my right side. I asked if it was strange that only my right leg was numb, but the team insisted that it was normal — that sometimes, depending on how you’re laying, gravity can cause the drugs to affect one side more than the other. The nurses diligently rotated me from side to side every 20 minutes or so. Five hours later, the contractions on the left side of my abdomen had gone from uncomfortable to nauseating. Concurrently, the doctor on staff determined it was time to break my water to move things along. That’s all it took for those contractions to turn up to an 11 out of 10 on the pain scale. I started throwing up and my whole body was involuntarily shaking. Evan and I insisted we see an anesthesiologist to address what clearly was an issue with the epidural.
Turns out, the placement of an epidural can be too high or too low depending on your anatomy. Some unlucky few will need it re-administered higher or lower in the spine to be more effective. An even unluckier few will feel some level of pain despite the placement. I was hoping a redo would do the trick.
The second epidural took the edge off, but for whatever reason, I continued to feel quite a bit of pain on my left side. Over the course of working through it, labor progressed and by 2pm it was time to start pushing.
I’ll spare you the details of the pushing phase. Let’s just say the epidural definitely didn’t work correctly for me…every time I thought I had experienced the worst pain of my life, it got worse. (It was not just “pressure,” which they said would have been normal.) But I told myself the only way to it is through it, so I powered through, with Evan by my side the whole time. I must have blacked out for the worst of it, because my memory goes from what felt like a re-enactment of June’s birthing scene in Handmaid’s Tale to me being handed our healthy 9 lb 3 oz baby boy, Nolan, at 3:49 pm. At that moment nothing else mattered — I was completely overtaken by a kind of love I’d never experienced before, and a dose of disbelief that it was happening to me.
Little did I know that my finish line was still quite a ways away. While in recovery, routine checks had one of the nurses suspicious. I felt off, too. While my epidural had been removed and I regained feeling in my legs, I was still quivering and had a tinny ringing in my ears. The nurse went to get the doctor, and before I knew it, I was swarmed by no less than 8 medical staffers. I was hemorrhaging blood, and fast.
Within seconds, every limb of mine was jabbed with needles — a concoction of drugs to control the bleeding — while the doctors tried to get things under control. Just when I thought I’d experienced a new ceiling for pain, it was shattered — and then some. With my epidural removed, I had no pain management as the doctors did a number of invasive things to stop the bleeding internally. I needed an emergency blood transfusion to keep me from going into shock. I had lost over 2 liters of blood.
About an hour later, I was stable, although my psyche was totally traumatized. I threw up, cried, and almost couldn’t believe I survived. I was so grateful to be alive, but so sad that those precious first minutes of my baby’s life were spent with him helplessly laying in his bassinet in the corner of the delivery room while all medical attention was directed toward saving my life. The cause is still unclear — I was told that some women who deliver big babies are just more prone to bleeding issues. It felt like such a simple explanation for such a life threatening complication.
I promise I’m almost done with this birth story. The last chapter of this ordeal came when my formerly very low blood pressure took a turn and became elevated above normal levels right after the hemorrhage. Again, no real explanation other than “some women experience postpartum hypertension due to massive fluctuations in hormones.” I was discharged on schedule and told to follow up with my OB one week later.
My first day home, I took my blood pressure after feeling off. I owned a cuff due to low blood pressure issues I had throughout pregnancy (oh the irony), and had a rude awakening when the number read 165/105. My mom, who was staying with us to help out, insisted I get to the ER immediately.
I was readmitted to Labor & Delivery for two days while my blood pressure was stabilized. If I had any doubt about whether the baby blues are real, I sure experienced my fill as I laid alone in the hospital room while my newborn was at home with my husband and mother on New Year’s Eve. I had to turn off the TV so I didn’t see another segment of people gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop. I meditated and prayed that my blood pressure would drop so I could be discharged and sent home to ring in 2020. And by some miracle, it did. For that, I am forever grateful.
I was put on a low dose of blood pressure medication to treat what was deemed “postpartum hypertension.” Most cases resolve on their own within 12 weeks. Within 1 week, my numbers already started to drop closer to my regular readings, and within 2 weeks I was fully off the medication. The road to postpartum recovery was hardly over, but it felt like I could finally close the doors on the tumultuous portion of the journey.
I’m still working on feeling back to myself, but I know that will take time. If you’re a new mom, know a new mom or are a mama-to-be, extend grace. Remember that it is no small feat to bring a new life into this world, no matter how “perfect” the experience is. Postpartum recovery is no joke. Go easy on yourself and let yourself feel however you want to feel. For as joyful as having a newborn is, it can be equally if not more overwhelming, especially when you are recovering. Make sure you have the support you need in order to take care of yourself. A healthy newborn starts with a healthy mama, so don’t be afraid to make you a priority.