Monday, April 23, 2007

Roan's Birth Story - Chapter 3: The Final Cut

Shortly after the doctor had determined that an emergency C-section would be necessary in order to deliver Roan, the anaesthesiologist visited me. He wanted to know what I'd had to eat in the last 4 hours. When the pushing had started - about 4 hours prior - I had realized I was famished. By now I was starving. The hospital is very particular about letting women eat in labor, though, because of the fear that in the event a C-section is necessary and they have food in their stomach, it can aspirate into their lungs and cause suffocation. Of course I had always thought this precaution was silly because I had been so sure I'd never need a C-section.

I explained that all I'd consumed in that time was a couple of honey sticks and some ice chips. Instead of getting any sympathy from the anaesthesiologist at how hungry I must be after 4 hours of hard work on an empty stomach, he explained that he would have to confer again with the doctor to confirm that this was in fact an emergency C-section. If not, I would have to wait another 4 hours without so much as a glass of water or bite of ice chips before surgery! I was floored.

Given that Roan had already had a couple of heart decels, there was no way they were going to delay the C-section for even a few minutes. Next thing I knew the nurse was back, asking whether I felt able to walk down the hall to the OR. I realized at that point that after all my body had been through there was no way at all I could do anything even as straightforward as that. So they wheeled my bed out of the room with me on it and Arwen helping to push it.

When we got outside the door to the OR, the nurse exhorted me to get up, walk in and sit on the operating table. This seemed at the time a herculean task. I eventually made my way over, but sitting on the table was the worst part. I was hunched over, sobbing, when they suggested I reposition myself so they could give me the spinal. That last few minutes of excruciating pain was mercifully contrasted moments later by the incredible feeling of relief when the spinal started to hit me. All the pain was magically gone. It was the best I had felt in two days, I realized.

I hesitate to speak for Arwen, but this did not seem to be a high point for him. It had been such a long, tough labor and right there toward the end when he insisted I get up and walk - which is what had gotten me to 9.5 cm - it seemed like we had turned the corner. He knew how much I had wanted to avoid a C-section and he'd done everything within his power to help me reach that goal. I think he probably felt helpless and disappointed that it wasn't going the way we hoped. And I think after seeing all I went through in labor it was really hard for him to watch what my body was going through now.

There was a whole team of doctors and nurses in the OR, all very friendly and personable. I was pretty out of it at this point though, and just trying to concentrate on trusting in their care believing that everything was going to turn out all right. They laid me down on the operating table, which is an incredibly skinny piece of stainless steel. They had two even skinnier mini-tables on wheels, on each side of the operating table for each of my arms. I was laid out in the shape of a cross with all kinds of wires going into me - IV fluids, blood pressure monitors, fetal monitors, and an oxygen tube in my nose.

They draped a big blue curtain in front of me at about chest level so that I couldn't catch any gruesome glimpses of the procedure. Arwen was seated by my head. Even though I was trying to be brave, there was no way I could've gotten through this without gripping his hand tightly in mine. Just as he had been throughout my labor, he was my rock. From where he sat, Arwen could choose to watch or not to watch the procedure. He ended up watching most of it.

I will warn you: the next few paragraphs are a little gory. If you have a sensitive stomach or would rather not know the details, feel free to skip ahead.

First they wipe you down with iodine. Then they make a horizontal incision in the neighborhood of the top of a pair of bikini bottoms. The incision just cuts through the skin and a layer of fat; they don't cut through the muscle beneath. Instead they use a wratchet type of device to crank-crank-crank your stomach muscle fibers apart. The docs seemed in many ways like auto mechanics, especially with this maneuver. Once the stomach muscles have been pulled wide apart they make a secondary horizontal incision, this time on your uterus. I of course could not feel any of this, but I was awake and could hear what was going on in the room. I could also feel vague pressure as they pulled and yanked on various body parts.

To give themselves plenty of room to move around inside your body, they take out all the stuff in their way: namely, your organs. Arwen watched in horror as they pulled out all of the organs in my abdominal cavity north of my uterus and set them on my chest. Although he couldn't really recognize each part as it was brought out into the light of the OR, he tried to make a mental note of what he was seeing to make sure everything eventually got put back where it belonged. I think it was probably around this time that Arwen was focusing every thought and hope on something along the lines of "Please let Heather make it through this ok."

Around this time, the docs were about ready to start getting this baby out. They discovered pretty quickly, however, that she was really wedged in there pretty good. They tried pulling from above and pushing from below, and neither worked. So then they determined that another incision on my uterus would be necessary, this time a short vertical one. When they still couldn't get her out through the larger incision, they started to freak out. The tone in the OR became noticibly tense. I heard a nurse make an emergency call to some team of specialists: "I need [such and such] in here STAT!" Arwen said there was a lot of blood coming out of me at that point. I heard the nurses remarking that my blood pressure was dropping dangerously low. The doctors seemed to be panicking that they couldn't get this baby out. I remember lying there, gripping Arwen's hand as tightly as I could, looking up into the bright lights and trying to think positive thoughts.

Next thing we knew, the petite Asian woman doctor who had made the determination that the C-section was necessary to begin with piped up. "Everyone out of my way! I've got the smallest hands!" They started cranking the operating table down to it's lowest setting, and Dr. Lindsay got on top of me. She began yanking so hard on me Arwen said I looked like a rag doll being flopped around on that table. I can't imagine how hard it was for him to see them doing all this to me.

It felt like there were 10 different docs, each one with a hold on a different organ, all pulling in different directions. But it worked. Next thing I knew I was hearing the first cries of our baby girl. Right as they got her out, that team of specialists came busting in through the double doors of the OR. "Nevermind, we got it!" someone said. I was looking to catch a glimpse of our sweet baby, but with the stupid blue curtain in the way I couldn't see anything. That was a very lonely moment. I knew they had her over in the baby warmer to my left, just barely out of view, and I just felt this terrible ache at not being able to see her, to touch her.

Arwen got up and went to her side. He snapped some photos of her first moments. And then he came right back to my side, grabbed my hand again, and told me through teary eyes that she was just fine, a healthy baby girl. I think at this point a huge sense of relief completely overtook Arwen. She was fine, I was fine. Everything was going to be ok. Finally he could take a break from having to be so strong for us, and his emotional floodgates opened.

In a few minutes they let Arwen hold her. He brought her to my side and put her right next to my cheek. I turned my head and tried to just stroke her face, but the nurses admonished me harshly. Apparently I was screwing up their blood pressure readings, which was no joke at this point given how low my BP had dipped. So I didn't get to touch her or hold her in the OR. It seemed like it took forever for them to put me back together and sew me up - again with a lot of uncomfortable tugging. Next thing I knew they were wheeling her away, and me after. I was pretty disoriented at this point. They put us in separate recovery rooms. I could just barely glimpse her past the curtain. It was killing me to be so close and still a world away from her. It felt like she wasn't mine yet.

But the wait wasn't long before they had bathed her, wrapped her up and brought her over to me. I looked at her little red face and her tiny swaddled body and tried to let it sink in that this incredible gorgeous creature was mine. Ours. A nurse offered to help me try to feed her for the first time, and wouldn't you know she took right to it. It was such a relief - finally something was working just the way it was supposed to.

Over the next hours and days as we began to get to know Roan, it was a tremendous comfort to see that she was healthy and strong. All her vitals were good, she had no sign of jaundice whatsoever, and good night that girl could eat! The lactation consultant was floored. "This baby is one in a hundred," she said. She is one in a million to us. And I tell you I would go through that incredible ordeal of bringing her into this world again and again just to have her come to us healthy.

So whew! That's it. The story of Roan's birth. Thanks for sharing in the agony and the ecstasy with us.


Anonymous said...

OHMYGOD!! I had four bebes and never had such an awful exerience. I couldn't get through the surgery part without breaking down and crying. I don't know anyone who has had such an awful time. Childbirth alone is enough - all the yanking and surgery is just too much. You were very brave - Arwen, too. Miss Roan has a good family. Love you, Honey -GGD

Anonymous said...

You have such a way to tell a story... I was there and I'm crying again. Big surprise! I am so lucky to have such a wonderful son(in-law) in Arwen. I can't imagine you with anyone else. Our sweet Roan is so lucky to have you as her parents. -love always, Momma (or Grandma Lollie)