While Simon may have favoured surprise in making his presence known to us, he was obstinately opposed to the idea of actually coming out and meeting us. After a pleasantly uneventful pregnancy, marred only by six months of low-level nausea and one unfortunate barfing-at-the-bus stop incident, I was more than ready to divest myself of what was becoming an alarmingly large baby.
After previously birthing a nine-pound baby, and hearing throughout my pregnancy about this one’s “healthy" size, I was getting a little skittish on the idea that I might be gestating an elephant calf. As my due date came and went, I was referred to the high-risk obstetrical unit for monitoring, and after each ultrasound, would ask the technician for her estimate on the baby's size. Each time, she would hedge and tell me that they could only guess within a pound or two either way, but eventually she took pity on me and said that her estimate was for nine or ten pounds.
This caused me considerable distress. Ten pounds plus two pounds of leeway was (takes off socks and shoes to count) potentially TWELVE POUNDS of baby. I began to rethink my vehement opposition to induction and ‘convenience’ c-sections and in fact pleaded with the obstetrician to induce me. And each time I was patted gently on the head and told that the earliest they would intervene was 10 days post-term, as long as the baby was otherwise healthy.
And he was. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.
On the eighth day post term, I realized mid-morning that I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt the baby move. He was so large and so tightly packed into my womb that I’m sure I could have felt him so much as blinking his eyelashes, so when neither drinking orange juice nor squishing him with my entire body weight (both tactics I used shamelessly to motivate him into movement throughout my pregnancy) elicited a response, we checked with the nurses and they advised me to come into the labour and delivery ward for monitoring. After several hours of angsting, an hour of frenzied preparation, and 20 minutes of driving, we were about a half a kilometre from the hospital when the baby commenced a series of lazy rolls. Closer to the hospital than home, and hoping they would take pity on me, we went in anyway, and were sent home within the hour. “Be patient,” they told us. You know me pretty well by now. You think I was good with the concept of "be patient"?
The next evening, the L&D administrator called me and told me that barring a baby rush in the next 24 hours, I could come in the next morning at 8 am to begin the induction. I was sure that Simon would take this as his cue, and that in overhearing this phone conversation he would finally take some initiative to make his own way into the world.
I was wrong. When we showed up on the fourth floor of the Civic hospital campus the next morning for an outpatient induction, I hadn’t had a single contraction, not a single twinge. When the resident obstetrician checked my cervix and found it “unfavourble”, I felt a little bit like I did when I failed my first drivers’ test. No dilation, no effacement. The baby was at ‘minus three’ station – in other words, somewhere up near my solar plexus. She gave me a dose of cervidal (I’ll save you the visual of how she dosed me) and within minutes I was having mild but detectable and regular contractions.
The nurse told us we had an hour to wait before the next exam, so we went for breakfast in the hospital cafeteria. (We hadn’t formally been admitted into the hospital yet, and wouldn’t be until labour was measurably and officially in progress.) After a few serious contractions, I felt like a bowling ball had dropped into my pelvis, and I was having trouble not walking in the bowlegged manner of a career cowboy. Either the baby had dropped, or he had become so large he had begun producing his own gravitational force. Flush with the excitement of actual contractions, I was crushed to find out on my next exam that my cervix was still closed. Closed! Not even dilated one centimetre.
The contractions, mild but frequent, continued every two minutes or so throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, when the resident announced that I was “fingertip” dilated – but nothing more. Entirely sick of walking the hospital corridors, we decided to take our show on the road. What with it being the last day of January, we were loath to walk around and enjoy the minus 15-before-windchill out-of-doors, so Beloved and I trundled ourselves to the nearest mall to kill some time. Because if you’ve gotta kill some time while you’re in labour, the mall is better than the hospital pharmacy for both selection and ambiance.
I don’t really remember too much of that part of the afternoon, to tell you the truth. I remember it was crowded because they were having a sidewalk sale, and I felt bad coming to a sudden stop in front of people as each contraction came on. I remember thoroughly enjoying a coconut pineapple Orange Julius. And I remember calling Nancy, who was faithfully keeping the rest of my friends informed of our progress, and leaving a message with her very patient husband, telling him I was in “induction hell”. I didn’t buy anything, or even do any serious browsing, because it just didn’t seem right to be using the fitting rooms while waiting for my water to break.
When we returned to the hospital around 4 pm, the staff took pity on us despite (or rather, because of) the rather uninspiring results of six hours of useless contractions, we were finally admitted to the L&D ward. By that time, my contractions had once again become irregular and barely uncomfortable, and I was getting annoyed with both my lazy baby and my enabling plumbing. If you don’t just squeeze him out of there, I told my uterus, he’s going to stay there forever. He’ll be twenty and taking his high-school equivalency exam via correspondence course in there, if you don’t step up now and kick him out while you have the chance. My uterus, drunk on cervidal and having been stretched to its limits – theoretically and literally, was not listening.
Dinnertime found me in the Jacuzzi tub, eating a ham sandwich and orange Jell-o, with barely noticable contractions. Nice life if you can get it. I’d’ve been perfectly content, if it weren’t for the 300-pound baby I couldn’t wait to pass.
The nurse assigned to us was a treasure. Her name was Jamie and I liked her instantly. She neither patronized me nor let me get away with anything, and I felt like we were attacking the problem of my stubborn baby like a business case that could be managed. We decided to let my body try its own thing for a while longer before starting a pitocin drip, and everyone was convinced that once things started to move, they would really move. It was just getting the process kick-started that was the problem. The baby was so high up in my cervix that we couldn’t even rupture my membranes, due to the risk of the cord prolapsing.
Beloved and I walked endless loops of the fourth floor, and even ventured down to the main floor of the hospital for a change of scenery. We walked so much that eventually Beloved asked, in a very tentative voice, if we might rest in the room for a while because between the mall walking and the hospital pacing, his feet were starting to hurt. So I sat in the room and bounced on a medicine ball for a while.
If you ever think you’re having a bad day, just thank whatever deity you worship that you are not a nine-months-plus-10-days pregnant woman trying to force a baby the size of a Toyota out against his will by spending an hour bouncing on a medicine ball after 12 hours of unsuccessful induction intervention.
The worst part was hearing the successful labours of other women on the ward. Because if labour is ever going to end, it first needs to start. I never thought I’d lay my head down and cry for jealousy of women screaming in agony. “Why can’t I have contractions like that?” I wept in the general direction of poor Beloved.
To my utter dismay, after 12 hours of regular albeit easy contractions and 4 cm of dilation, the contractions petered out to nothing early in the evening. We gave up on my body’s own plans for the evening, and called for the pitocin drip. Jamie ordered an epidural at the same time, still convinced that things would happen quickly. I was less optimistic.
The pitocin drip has a scale that starts at eight and moves up in increments of two to a maximum of 20 units. They started me at the minimum, and my mild contractions resumed.
Finally, shortly before 11 pm the anaesthesiologist arrives to begin the epidural. He is young and goodlooking, and I trust him because of this and because his name is Ben. After administering the epidural, he and Jamie leave me to stew in my own hormones yet again.
Every 20 minutes or so, Jamie boosts up the level of pitocin, and although contractions are steady, they are not painful and certainly do not have the anticipated effect of popping the baby out like a cork. Baby is still minus 3 station, and the epidural is very patchy, seeming to take only on my lower legs. Unless I find a way to deliver the baby from my ankles, I might be in trouble. Finally, Dr Ben the anaesthesiologist is called again, and he begins to mix special "cocktails" to properly anaesthetize me. He pokes me with a toothpick several times, and tells me I have a remarkably high tolerance for pain. I tell him not that high and ask him to keep working on his cocktails!
Dr Ben, my new best friend, comes and goes through the course of the night, completely perplexed as to why his cocktails are not working. We finally seem to hit on the right combination, and although I don't seem to be completely frozen, I can feel the pressure of the regular contractions without feeling the pain from them. Dr Ben tells me that in the 400 to 500 epidurals he has done, mine is by far the most challenging. I am oddly pleased to at least be excelling at something this long night.
Finally, some time in the early hours before dawn, and more than 20 sleepless hours after the induction began, I feel a noticable change in the intensity of the contractions. Just as I am reporting this to Jamie, there is a gush of nether fluid. She tests it, but the traitorous strip tells her it is not amniotic fluid. A few moments later, there is a thud inside my uterus so sudden and so sharp that I jump and gasp in surprise and ask Jamie what has happened. She checks me, but I am still only 5 cm dilated, and she steps out to take a coffee break. Within minutes, my contractions ratchet up and my water breaks in earnest.
The contractions come on so suddenly that I am taken completely off guard and am unprepared to deal with them; all the breathing techniques and diversionary tactics I have learned go out the window in my sheer panic and I realize just how inadequate the epidural is. I beg for Jamie, my human security blanket, and Dr Ben.
Jaimie returns and cups my face in her hands, forcing me to look at her and get at least somewhat of a grip on my composure.
Jamie checks the monitors and tells Beloved to press the call button. My heart nearly stops at the tone in her voice when she calls for assistance; the baby's heart has decelerated significantly, down from 140s to low 60s, Beloved later tells me. The room is suddenly full of people, including Dr Ben and the OB on call, handful of extra nurses, plus the resident who had been following me since I showed up for induction oh so many
Fact of the matter is, her ‘permission’ is a little anticlimactic, because the Toyota-sized baby is now in charge and on his way out whether it’s convenient for us or not. After nine-months-plus-10-days of waiting and almost 24 hours of medical intervention, he is finally enticed out of the womb. It takes two pushes to get myself focused, and with three more pushes Simon barrels out, his arm raised over his head in much the same way I held my own arm up at the peak of every contraction.
He is born at 5:59 am on February 1, 2004. He weighs an even 10 lbs, and is portly and lovely and starving from his first breath. Two years later, he is perpetually portly and lovely and hungry.
(Hey, if you thought the retelling was long, be thankful you didn’t have to endure it in real time!)