Great (Parental) Expectations

Giving birth -- it's never exactly what you expect, and a story you'll never forget.
P and I about 10 minutes after giving birth. Look, she’s not crying!

There we were, on the floor of our three-day-old daughter’s nursery, weeping. P had been screaming crying for six hours. We tried changing her diaper, feeding her, taking her temperature (no fever), rocking her, pacing with her, bouncing her, singing to her, and swinging her. Nothing would make her stop.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” my husband whispered.

“I have never felt so helpless,” I managed, between sobs.

That night, and subsequent nights, we questioned our competence as new parents, our judgment, and our sanity. While we expected parenthood to be challenging, this was off-the-charts challenging. The six-week birth and baby care course we endured did not cover this. Let’s rewind.

We were scheduled to go in for my induction on a Thursday at 6:30 a.m. At 39.5 weeks, I was having difficulty breathing and wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours each night. My doctor assured me that these were “typical pregnancy symptoms,” but offered to schedule my induction anyway. Had I known how much more difficult it would be to have P outside the womb, I would have let her hang out in there for a little while longer. At least you can’t hear them crying in the womb.

I was so anxious that morning that I only managed a few bites of applesauce. After a brief shower, and my hair straightening routine (I had to look presentable in those post-birth photos, after all), we were off to the hospital. We were checked in quickly, wristbands were printed and applied, and we were led down the hall to one of the birthing rooms. One of the nurses handed me a fabulously flattering hospital gown, and instructed me to strip. I was then hooked up to I don’t remember how many IVs, and around 9:00 a.m. the Pitocin drip was started. My expectation was that the pain would begin almost immediately, but it didn’t. After about three hours of feeling nothing, the doctor suggested “breaking the water,” with the hope it would “kick-start” the labor process. One look at that needle/hook apparatus, and I was convinced “breaking my water” was going it be painful. It wasn’t, just messy, and oddly enough, funny. Maybe because it felt like I was peeing my pants (or robe, I guess, in this situation)? He was right, though; breaking my water certainly sped up the process.

About three hours later, the contractions were really ramping up, so I asked the nurse for a birthing ball in an effort to alleviate some of the pain. See, I did learn something in birth and baby care class! The nurse returned a few minutes later, sat the ball by the bed, and scurried off to one of her other patients.  My husband helped me to a standing position with only minor difficulty. In the process of standing up, I somehow got tangled in two of the IV cords. As my husband did his best to free me, amniotic fluid dripped (from me); at some point, my husband bumped the bed, which bumped the ball, which then rolled through the puddle of amniotic fluid that had collected on the floor. We looked at each other and laughed. Of course this would happen to us. Awkward! My husband quickly found a towel, and laid it on the floor, while I tried to wipe down the ball with the edge of one of my blankets. Mid clean-up, the nurse walked in. My back to the door, you can imagine the kind of scene she walked in on (Ok, if you can’t, my robe didn’t tie in the back, I was slightly bent, trying to clean off the ball, and my husband was cleaning up the floor). At that point, I made the executive decision to get back in bed.

About an hour later, wanting some sort of distraction, I urged my husband to turn on the television. We watched a stand-up special on Comedy Central for a while, before my dear husband turned on the Food Network. The Food Network. It had been about eight hours since I’d last eaten, and was becoming increasingly aware of just how hungry I was. The nurse had mentioned earlier that popsicles were allowed, so I indulged. grape, red, and more grape. The contractions grew stronger with each passing hour. When they came, I closed my eyes, hugged my knees, and rocked from side to side. I didn’t scream, I didn’t yell, I just tried to stay calm and make it through to the other side. Finally, at about 9:00 p.m., I requested an Epidural. I had gone into the birthing process open-minded; I planned to go “natural,” at least with regard to the pain medication, unless I felt I couldn’t any longer. I expected to be nervous about the epidural, to be afraid of the needle, but I wasn’t. The most difficult part was keeping still, during a contraction, while the doctor administered the Epidural. A few minutes later, the nurse asked me to rate the pain. Still the same. The Epidural didn’t work. I was offered a second Epidural about an hour later, but decided to hold out. Then, as the contractions became stronger, I requested the second one. At about 11:15 p.m., the second Epidural was administered. Ahhhh..relief!

The nurse came in at about 11:30 to do “a check.” She looked confused as she performed the task; after what felt like minutes, but was probably about 15 seconds, she looked up, and proclaimed, “You’re ready to go.” “I need to call the doctor now.”

The doctor arrived about 15 minutes later, completed his “check,” and instructed me to do a “practice push.” After about five seconds of pushing, he told me to stop, and called for a second nurse. “Are you ready to go?” he asked. “The baby is right there.”

“Sure, I guess,” I replied. The second nurse arrived within minutes, and the pushing began. As P’s head emerged, I looked down, laughed nervously, and remember repeating “This is weird. This is so, so, weird.” Giving birth is sort of an alien experience, don’t you think?  I didn’t keep track, and neither did my husband, (who was defying our agreement and watching down there), but we guess I pushed between 8 and 10 times, for a total of about 20 minutes, before P was born. She screamed a few seconds after making her grand entrance, for much longer than I expected. The second nurse weighed P, measured her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to me. I swore I would not kiss her goopy head until they cleaned her off, but I did anyway. She had the most scrumptious round cheeks, a button nose, and full, red, lips.

The next two days in the hospital are somewhat of a blur. Whoever said newborns sleep “all of the time” lied. P cried. A lot. In total, my husband and I slept for about 7 hours during our entire hospital stay. She hated the swaddle, and did not like lying in the portable baby crib the hospital provided. We were afraid to leave the hospital, and we should have been.

I was in labor for about 15.5 hours. I expected much longer, having learned in birth and baby care class that inductions often lead to longer labors.  I’m not sure how I expected to feel, or how I thought the birth process would unfold, but I did not expect it to be comical or wonderfully strange. I did not expect P to sleep as little as she did, both in the hospital and when we got home. What I am trying to articulate, is that nothing happened like I thought it would.

I have friends who are expecting now. They anticipate painful births. I have friends who hope to have children in the future. They expect to have natural births. I have friends who have children already. One of my friends has a daughter who was born with a birth defect that claims the lives of half its victims. Thankfully, her daughter survived, and is doing well several years later. I can’t even imagine what her expectations were.

I believe the ability to adapt to the unexpected is an important skill for everyone, especially for parents. Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned just how important it is. Plans and expectations are wonderful; without them, we would walk around confused, and our hours and days may dissolve into chaos. I now formulate my plans knowing they may unfold in a completely different way, and I am okay with that. I encourage other parents, soon-to-be parents, and future parents to think about adopting a similar mindset. It has been a liberating experience to scale back on the plans, and broaden my expectations. Maybe it will be for you, too.

*I am happy to report that P no longer screams for hours each day and night. At 13 months, she is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted (at least we think..).

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