Sunday, March 27, 2011

Precious cargo, and my first birth journey

I had a feeling of such utter control after losing that weight. Mind you, I never did get my body to the stereotypical magazine cover state I had always envisioned, but I was able to tie my shoes, and walk up and down flights of stairs without getting winded. I was able to buy clothing in regular stores again.

I loved the freedom this new 'lifestyle' afforded me. It was 1999, and lowfat foods were everywhere. One of my favorite meals, suggested by the Kaiser Permanente nutritionist was two small hamburgers, and a large chocolate shake from McDonalds. No fries.

Lots of Snackwell cookies, within my calorie limit for the day, of course.

Lots of skim milk, boneless skinless chicken breasts, egg white omelets and whole wheat bread.



I'm sure there were salads involved; I'm just remembering the good stuff, since this was a part of my life I remember as kind of a party. I was out of school, making a little money. We drove down to San Diego to hang out at the beach a lot and ate ceviche every chance we got. We had visitors all the time because we lived in a fun place.

Oh, there were a lot of avocados and oranges, because they were awesome and easy to procure.

I was working in vegetarian paradise, Loma Linda University Medical Center -- the origin of the research frequently cited by vegetarians as justification for their lifestyle choices. Loma Linda, California is a vegetarian city. Unless you bring in your meat (and as I mentioned before, I wasn't much of a lunch packer), you'll have to go to a neighboring town for your animal flesh.

Typically, I would have something like a smoothie for lunch, though occasionally the cafeteria would serve up a delicious meat loaf impostor called "Cottage Cheese Loaf." Once every week or two, a bunch of us would go to a local Indian restaurant in San Bernardino.

So, those are the kinds of things I was eating when I became pregnant with my first child, Everett.

I have to pause here and extend a big, heartfelt thank-you to my dear husband Erick, who immediately said that I needed to start drinking whole milk now that I was pregnant. You would think I would have known that, having studied neuroscience, but what I had read in books just wasn't translating well to real life.

Erick was worried about my nutrition when I was pregnant, and for good reason. I've always been somewhat obsession-driven, from the time I began cooking brownies weekly at the age of eight. So, I have always had something in my diet that has been a "thing" which I was unable to eat in moderation, crowding out the nutrition I would perhaps get from other sources. In one flurry of worry, he made me pasta with a tomato-sardine sauce. It was one of the only times I vomited during my pregnancy.

(A note to anyone out there cohabitating with a pregnant woman -- I think it's totally fair to maim or nearly kill anyone who opens a can of mackerels in the vicinity of a pregnant woman).

Working in a laboratory while pregnant was not easy. I really wanted to leave my job early on -- all the smells of the chemicals we were using regularly left me dizzy, and often gave me headaches. But, like many young families, we needed all the money we could save before the baby was born. We weren't even really sure I would be able to stay home, and our original plan was for me to go back to work when Everett was 6 weeks old.

I actually did try to find a different job, but I found job-hunting while pregnant difficult. Did I need to tell them? The immorality of it all left my stomach in knots.

I immediately researched the safety of working with said chemicals, and called the California Teratogen Information Service to find out if there was cause for worry. I was told, "With any of these things, the mother will have effects before there is risk to the fetus." I had decided to wait until I was three months pregnant before telling my employer about my pregnancy, so I had to work with everything I had been for that time. After that, all accommodations were made for me, which included having other employees step in and do the more risky parts of my job, and also purchasing a respirator for me to use for the less risky chemicals.

I worked in a very small department, and by coincidence, my girlfriend at work became pregnant about a month before me. She was an Adventist, and a vegetarian. She was well schooled in healthy nutrition, and her body was a temple. Or, at least she seemed that way when I compared her to myself. She became concerned that I was not eating enough -- she said my breath smelled like ketones (she was a chemist by training) -- and would regularly offer me handfuls of almonds.

Something was going on -- about once a week I had a very intense craving for meat, and would drive to nearby Redlands on a long lunch to get a Boston Market chicken sandwich. I had to cut back on eating out because we were trying to save up for my maternity leave, so I only ate out at the Indian restaurant twice during my pregnancy.

After the first time, I was extremely tired -- I went home and Erick noticed I was visibly larger from that morning. I weighed myself (I was compulsive about this as I had been warned by my obstetrician not to gain too much weight), and I had gained 10 pounds in just one day. The weight did not come off the next day.

The same thing happened the second time I went there.

Shortly after the second lunch, I became very tired. I was having regular problems with sciatica such that I could barely walk down the hall to the bathroom -- I had to prop myself up on the wall. I was performing tasks at work that ruined my appetite and distressed me. One night in late January 2001, I had a dream that my last day of work would be February 15th. I remember looking at the calendar in my dream and seeing the day. In the weeks before February 15th, in real life, I was increasingly tired in the mornings -- around 10 a.m. I would need a nap, and I had regular headaches. When February 15th really did come, I had an incredible headache that morning, and ended up going to see my obstetrician.

My blood pressure was 160/100. I was 30 weeks pregnant. I would be on bedrest for the duration of my pregnancy. So, February 15th really did end up being my last day of paid work.

Twice a week, I went into the hospital for a non-stress test. I was not allowed to drive, so Erick would take off work to bring me to the hospital. Fortunately, my blood pressure stabilized around borderline (140/90) with bed rest, so I did not have to take any medication. The worry about money was partially alleviated by the State of California's disability pay.

In retrospect, that time went so fast, though at the time, it went by so slowly. Days of watching A Baby Story on The Learning Channel and compulsively measuring my blood pressure crawled by in a lonely fashion. Weekends were spent reading and watching Erick play Gran Turismo 2. I have the soundtrack from that game burnt into my subconscious.

I was so tired of being pregnant. I really just wanted to get off that sofa and have my baby. My obstetrician decided to induce me at 39 weeks, but after a long night in the hospital with irregular contractions, I was sent home.

Several days later, I was told that I would likely be induced the following weekend, at 40 weeks, 2 days of pregnancy. However, at my 40 week checkup, my obstetrician informed me that she wanted me to check into Labor and Delivery for an "outpatient induction" -- she wanted to get my cervix ripened with some prostaglandin gel for the weekend. When I did check into L&D, the obstetrician on duty there wanted to induce me with a drug called Cytotec, which at the time was not approved for obstetric use.

I had done some reading about natural childbirth and risks associated with various interventions, but had kind of thrown in the towel when I was diagnosed with Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH). I figured (and was correct), that I would be unable to walk around at all during my labor, and certainly I wouldn't be able to labor in water at all, and likely, I would have to spend the entire time on my left side.

When that doctor said, "Cytotec," however, I freaked out. He kept his composure -- and explained that the risks were very small, and he regularly used the drug without complication. "Besides," he said, "Prostaglandin gel didn't work for you last time. Do you really want another failed induction?"

No, not so much, I didn't. So I agreed, and around 11 a.m. a small tablet of Cytotec, also known as misoprostol, was placed on my cervix, and I got to spend quite a few hours chatting with Erick, laying on my left side, in the Labor & Delivery room.

(Knowing what I know now, perhaps I would have said "No" to the Cytotec, because the chances were a lot lower of having a failed induction at 40 weeks, with or without Cytotec).

It had been a long day, without any food, and we had regularly discussed going to the Stuart Anderson's across the street from the medical center on our many visits there. So, when I was checked at 4:30 p.m. and told that I had made no progress and would be discharged, I was excited to get out of there and have a nice big steak.

However, in waiting for the discharge papers, I felt a very strange kick. Well, more like a pop. "Wow!" I said. "I'll never forget how that kick felt!" And then... well, then, I knew that it hadn't been a kick, because I was fairly certain that I hadn't peed on the bed. And then I cried.

I cried because I knew I wasn't getting that steak, and I was hungry. I knew I wasn't getting to leave Labor & Delivery, and my baby wasn't going to be delivered by the physician I had grown to trust, but by some other who I had never met before.

After my water broke, things started moving along pretty quickly. Around 7 p.m. I was offered some drugs. All I remember is seeing the plunger go down halfway on the syringe the nurse was holding, and then I got some rest.

I can't even remember if I was on pitocin or not. After I awoke, I remember laying there on my side and shaking the bars on the side of the bed, shaking, shivering, and yelling, "Help me!!" I did not want anymore narcotics, because I wanted to be able to remember and experience my labor. I signed the consent for an epidural around 10:30 p.m., but there were multiple women in labor that evening, and it wasn't until after midnight that the anesthetist arrived.

After receiving my epidural (during which we nearly lost Erick), a new obstetrician came by to check me and discovered that I was fully dilated and effaced. Because I was so tired, she suggested that I sleep a little.

I was so exhausted, I knew I would need some sleep before pushing, but Erick couldn't sleep. "How can you sleep? This feels just like Christmas!" he complained.

I told him that I could sleep because I was exhausted. That was the finest half an hour of sleep I would have for several years.

A nurse came by and asked, "Is this your first baby?"


"Do you want to try to push?"


"With your next contraction, give a little push, okay?"


"Stop! STOP! STOP!! I have to go get a doctor!"

So, I waited for a while, and a new doctor came in to check me. "Is this your first baby?"


"Do you want to try to push?"


"With your next contraction, give a little push, okay?"


"Stop! STOP! STOP!!"

During the next 20 minutes, the nurse and doctor scrambled to prepare everything they felt they needed to catch Everett, and about eight thousand people filed into the little room.

"Okay, are you ready? Give us another push."

That was it. Everett was born on that third push.

He was so beautiful, so perfect. The joy overwhelmed Erick and I. We had waited so long to meet Everett. Never did I imagine how much this delicate yet strong being would change me. That feeling of control I had after losing that weight was short-lived.

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