I’m a bit late in sharing this with you all, but figured better late than never!
My hope through pregnancy was to deliver Esteban through a natural, drug-free delivery. I had done a lot of reading, talked with friends who had delivered drug-free, and taken an amazing birth class that covered all sorts of topics but also went over pain management and helps for delivering without medicine. However, I also understood things might not go the way I would like and was okay with that too; pending no complications though, my resolution was to deliver completely naturally.
The Wednesday after my due date I had an appointment with my doctor, Dr. K, my blood pressure was a little high but nothing severe. Dr. K had labs taken to test for pre-eclampsia and said to come back in on Friday to have another blood pressure check but she wouldn’t be too concerned if the labs came back fine. The labs did come back fine; Dr. K decided I should come in anyways though.
That Thursday night Epi and I were watching TV, I had a horrible headache but didn’t think too much about it – I get migraines pretty regularly and figured it was just another one. I also saw funny little sparks in my eyes every once in a while but just thought my contacts were being weird or it was the migraine. Since my labs had been normal and I hadn’t had any issues during my pregnancy I wasn’t concerned. That night though, I could not sleep my head hurt so incredibly bad so I just sat on the couch with Miklo, our cat, curled up next to me and waited for morning and my doctor appointment to come.
Epi, who had gone to all of my appointments with me, had a big case with one of his mentees and wouldn’t be able to go with me to this one. Since I was just going in for a blood pressure check and everything had been fine we figured it wasn’t a big deal. At 10:30am I walked my 40 week pregnant self the half mile to the clinic. The medical assistant took my blood pressure, told me it was normal. My doctor had a lot of patients that day so had me see one of the midwives.
After hearing about my headache and the sparks the midwife decided to double check my blood pressure. After taking it, she paused and re-took it. “Liz, it’s really high. With your headache and other symptoms, I need to send you to the hospital.” “Ok…” I said totally unaware of what that meant. “Epi’s working the rest of the day, should I tell him to meet me there when he’s done?” She informed me I shouldn’t be driving and she didn’t feel comfortable with me walking home by myself. I called Epi, who said the fastest he could get back was an hour and a half. After a bit, the doctors and midwife felt it was okay for me to walk back home. I was instructed to get my bags together for the hospital, eat some lunch, and tell Epi to hurry. As soon as he got home we needed to go to the ER.
Epi arrived; we grabbed our hospital bags, and drove to the hospital. My hope still at that point was that my blood pressure would decrease and we could go back home where I could go into labor naturally. I just kept thinking, my labs had been normal, I ate healthy, exercised, and hadn’t had any issues all pregnancy, there is no way things are bad now.
I was wheeled up to OB, my labs were taken again, and I was hooked up to a machine that took my blood pressure every fifteen minutes. Often the machine would read 145/102 (normal blood pressure is 120/80, my normal is usually even lower); Epi saw it get up to 197/145 a few times. After a couple of hours my labs came back and were terrible (one doctor told me they were the worst he had ever seen for a pre-eclamptic patient); the doctor on call from our health clinic came in and told me I needed to be induced.
I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to IVs and other machines, and the whole time was so confused. Physically I felt okay, I didn’t even have a headache anymore, and didn’t understand why I needed so much medicine to get labor started. I texted Dr. K asking her what was going on & to give it me straight. “Those meds are to prevent you from seizing and to keep your organs from shutting down. Your labs are bad and your blood pressure is really high, you need them. You have severe pre-eclampsia and we’re worried about it moving into eclampsia.” Okay then, that was all I needed to hear.
All through the night I was given medicine to get me to dilate and go into labor. For almost twelve hours nothing happened. Each time the midwife would come in to check me and each time we’d hear the same answer, “maybe a fingertip dilated, but that’s it.”
6:30 in the morning things kicked into gear, I was 2cm dilated and my water broke. Around 8:30am I was 4cm so could get an epidural. We called our doula as well and told her she could head over in the next couple of hours. Even though I wasn’t having a natural/drug-free birth anymore, the main reason we had a doula, I still wanted her to be there to help!
My blood pressure was still really high, sitting around the 150/105 zone which was a bit unnerving. I was still hooked up to the machine that checked my blood pressure every fifteen minutes. After checking, alarms would go off because it was so high. We’d then sit with the alarm until a nurse came in to shut it off. So around 9:30am when an alarm went off Epi and I didn’t think much about it until our room flooded with people shouting and checking the machines. Our son’s heart beat had disappeared and they weren’t finding it quickly. One of the midwives rolled me to one side and then the other while another midwife moved the sensor around my belly trying to find his heartbeat. I remember the urgency I heard in their voices and their yelling to get an OR ready for me.
One of the midwives told me to get on my hands and knees, “I can’t feel anything though [from the epidural].” “I know,” she said, “but you have muscle memory and can do it even if you can’t feel what you’re doing” I fumbled around and finally figured it out. Then his heartbeat came back. Turns out the Pitocin was too high, the contractions too strong, and his little body couldn’t take all of that stress.
From there, things began to go fast. By the time our doula arrived, thirty minutes after we called her, I was at 9cm – I had dilated 5cm in 30 minutes! I stalled for just a little bit, but soon was at the point to push.
My epidural had worn off by that point. The nurses offered to call the anesthesiologist; I decided it was probably better to feel what I was doing when pushing. Pushing took two hours. I liked it better than contractions though, it felt much more productive.
Right before Esteban was born, his heart started slowing down. Alarms were going off and everyone started shouting I needed to push and get him out. I was so tired at that point, and just wanted to be done. I remember telling Dr. K to “just cut him out!” Dr. K who had been so positive and encouraging through the whole process looked at me with this very stern, serious face (quite like the one I’ve seen her use with her children when they are in trouble) and said “Liz, you have to push. There is no time to do anything else to get your baby out. His heart rate is dropping and if you don’t get him out fast we’re going to be in serious trouble. You need to find it somewhere and push him out!” And so I did.
Out came a limp, purple baby with the cord around his neck. They rushed him over the warming table and worked on him. Meanwhile I was losing a lot of blood and had some other complications. I laid there for what felt like a long time waiting to hear our son’s cry. I remember praying and praying that he was okay. Watching the table where they were working on him I started talking to him, suddenly his little foot kicked up and a shrill, newborn cry filled the room. I felt so relieved! Our doctor and the attending OB at the hospital finished working on me and then I got to hold my little son. His tiny self was so perfect! Epi and I spent hours taking in each little detail of him & could not get over how amazing he was.
Two days later, my blood pressure went back to normal-ish territory and everything was given the green light for us to go home. Driving home that rainy May afternoon was so surreal, everyone around us were going about life as normal. Nothing much had changed since we went in to the hospital four days earlier, but for us everything had changed!