The End of HG: Our Birth Story

I suppose the beginning of our birth story starts with an OB appointment. I had my week 37 growth scan with the perinatologist, and the results weren’t heartening. An abdominal circumference higher than the 99th percentile, and a head size in the 97th percentile. My OB drew me a bell curve and charted out our chances of getting the baby out of me naturally—he said we were probably running a 40% chance of either oxygen deprivation during labor and/or broken baby bones while trying to get baby out of my pelvis. And, a slight chance that baby’s head would fit but shoulders wouldn’t, in which case you’re looking at a 1% survival rate if they try to push baby’s head back through my pelvis to do an emergency c-section.

Looking at those odds, it’s vastly preferable to just do a scheduled c-section. It took a few days of calling my OB office to remind them, but then the labor and delivery nurses at the hospital finally stepped in and bugged my OB until we had a date and time nailed down. Then it was just six more days of waiting, and a 7:30 AM c-section (arriving at the hospital at 5:30 AM that morning).

I’ve got some control issues, a holdover from my childhood/relationship with my parents. They manifest most often in other family relationships, in people who have certain expectations and are vastly disappointed in me if those expectations aren’t met. So, I can get a little controlling when I feel like people are expecting something of me that I don’t necessarily want to grant. In this case, it was extremely important to me to preserve my dignity during the invasive procedure of cutting a baby out of me. I told all the (grand)parents that they should just hang back until we let them know that the surgery was over and we were settled. My mom ended up going in for a semi-emergency surgery of her own that morning, so it was just the in-laws who came into town. Respectful of my wishes but also trying to fulfill expectations of her own, my mother-in-law was waiting in the hospital lobby at 5:30 that morning to wish us well. She did go back to their hotel after that, for which I’m grateful. The last thing I want while I’m on the operating table is to worry about all the people who are impatiently waiting for me to make an appearance afterward. Having no idea how I would feel, or whether there would be any complications with me or the baby…it just made sense to tell people to chill out, relax, and not expect anything from us until it was all well and truly done.

My husband did an excellent job of being my sole support person (being the only person I felt comfortable having around while I was naked under hospital gowns, organs exposed during surgery, etc.). He described his feeling that morning as a “first day of school” sort of anxiety. We made sure he ate something (I had to fast for eight hours prior to the surgery), and made jokes and took pictures of him in his surgical scrubs. I got an IV and some instructions and a really fabulous Labor & Delivery nurse who walked me through everything with clear explanations, eye contact, and reassuring touches. The operating room was very bright, and slightly warm (to accommodate for baby). The table was much more narrow than I was expecting, but there was no risk of me falling off with that epidural.

The fabulous nurse held my shoulders while the anesthesiologist administered a numbing shot and then the epidural. I think that was the scariest part, just because you’re conceptualizing a shot going into your spine, and if things go wrong with your spine they’re not little things. I was just able to swing my legs up onto the table and lay down, and then they set up the curtain and surgical area while the tingling spread and my anesthesiologist tested my sensation with a pin. At one point, before my husband was even seen into the room, my OB asked, “Did you feel that?” My response was, “Feel what? Cause I didn’t feel anything, if you did something.” “I made an incision. I already started cutting.”

With hubby there with me, holding my hand, the rest went pretty quickly. There were a lot of tugging, pulling, pushing sensations that I could feel somewhere around my rib/breast area, but it was more the suggestion of things being done than actual feelings of touch or anything like that. And at one miraculous point, with a lot of tugging and moving of my numbed body, I was all of a sudden able to expand my lungs to their full size for the first time in months. It was—well. People talk about childbirth like it’s a miracle because they think children are blessings and reproducing a sentient individual is so damn cool and all. I think childbirth is like a miracle because of how in one split second it can restore you completely to yourself. Just you. No longer two cramped people sharing the same space. You get to live alone in your own body again. And if that isn’t the coolest feeling in the world, I don’t know what is.

The OB held the baby above the curtain for us to see the sex (though we were so shell-shocked we had to double-check with the nurse in charge of her!). They weighed her (7 lbs 15 oz), clamped her cord, wiped her down, all within sight of us. They brought her over to my shoulder so we could get some skin-to-skin right away, though pretty soon after her arrival there I had to turn away to be sick with a slight bit of projectile vomit that came on rather suddenly. I really only had time to say to the anesthesiologist “I’m feeling nauseous” before it was coming out. I’ve heard it’s pretty common for HG moms to vomit one last time during labor, and I’m not sure about c-section moms but it makes sense to me that my body would be freaking out a bit with all the cutting and such going on.

The rest of it was just a matter of cutting my tubes (thank the gods!) and sewing me up. Dissolvable sutures and dermabond. Super easy. The incision itself is about ten inches long, but then, she was still a pretty big baby for my 5’3” frame (and short torso).

Afterward was when I was so grateful for asking everyone to just hang out elsewhere instead of waiting impatiently at the hospital for us to finish. It isn’t like the movies, where dad comes running out yelling “It’s a girl!” and the baby is wheeled to some room full of baby bins and you coo at the one with the right name tag. Since she wasn’t exhibiting any ill health indicators, and her sugar checks were coming back in a good range, she never left our side. They wheeled us to a recovery room where my L&D nurse and the baby’s nurse stayed with us for two hours, taking vital signs and checking the things they check every 15 minutes without fail. It wasn’t an appropriate time for visitors—not with my bleeding constantly being checked, with her heel being pricked, with Matt being so steamrolled with the enormity of a baby AND a wife who had just been through major surgery. He was fantastic. Our phones had to be on airplane mode in the operating room, and we just left them like that, much too busy and preoccupied with “Is everything okay, is everyone healthy” to worry about the outside world just yet.

Eventually they transferred us to a room on the mother-baby floor, and we finally started calling and texting and sending pictures, trying to get the order in which we told people right (all the (grand)parents deserved to know first, then the siblings, then the extended family and friends, and on down the list all the way to our old therapist and the nurse practitioner who helped with my gestational diabetes…). My in-laws came to visit once I was decently gowned (still stuck in bed with no feeling in my legs and catheter inserted…but at least draped enough for slight modesty’s sake).

For a while the epidural and the morphine they’d given me during surgery kept the pain completely under wraps, and I was just feeling over the moon. Better than I’d felt in months. Physically, I’d say every ill effect of the pregnancy and its complications went away almost instantly. Slight heartburn stuck around for a few days, but considering all the hormones still circulating through my system, that just made sense. The headache, nausea, general malaise and lack of energy, muscle fatigue, food aversions, bad taste in the back of my mouth…it all disappeared faster than a bad dream. It was a friggin lightswitch, and all of a sudden the HG beast faded like it had never existed.

Emotionally, I think I can easily say that the day I gave birth was the best day of my life. It tops the wedding, it tops the day we found out we were pregnant, it tops graduations and friendships and just…all of it. Because in just one surgery, in just one moment of that sweet full expansion of lungs, I got myself back.

As far as the kid goes, Senga is fabulous. I’m very much in love with her. I don’t feel super different now that I’m a “mom.” Nor did I really expect to. I’m still me. And she’s her own person, and I have no idea who that is yet. I expect we’ll love each other, and we’ll fight, and we’ll have an interesting adventure getting to know each other and navigating some of the messier parent/child battles. All of that comes later, though. Mostly, I’m just so in love with every bit of her. I described it to a friend like this: “I’m super grateful to her for giving me the chance to house her body and soul for a little while, and I’m in awe of her existence because it’s so freakishly weird and cool that I helped make her.” Our pregnancy journey was not easy. If we’d known what to expect, we would have chosen a different path, and found a fulfilling life in other ways. We chose to have her, though, and we chose to survive the nine month battle to buy her the time she needed to come into this world. And now that she’s here, I feel like every smidge of discomfort, every experience that could now be an emotional trigger, every bit of physical deterioration, was ultimately worth it. It was a high price to pay, but I’m glad I did. And now I get to go along for the ride of watching her grow up and become who she’s going to be. How cool is that?

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