Holden’s birth story: preeclampsia

It’s Birth Story week. If you’re new here, Holden was born in 2005. My water broke in the late night early morning between Tuesday the 10th and Wednesday the 11th and it would be nearly 44 hours later before our baby boy would be born. This is the first time I’m telling this story.

I had wanted a 5/5/5 birthday for my pregnancy because it sounded cool. My husband, Alec, stayed home from work on the 4th and we tried all the stuff: sex, meaty “prego pizza”, and a stationary scooter “ride” to simulate a tractor rumbling through the country. I also tried spicy food, an intense foot massage, chocolate and jumping jacks.


By the time my bean’s due date rolled around on the 8th, I already felt like we were late.

Things start moving, slowly.
I went to bed on the 10th thinking and wondering if tonight would be the night, as I had done each night for a week. In terms of nesting behavior, I hadn’t noticed how busy I had been baking, shopping, cleaning, and assembling furniture. That night, Alec woke up around 2:30am complaining of something in his eye, so I got up to look for Visine. When I peed, I thought I felt an extra trickle of fluid, but I couldn’t be sure. I shifted position this way and that until I excitedly convinced myself that my water had sprung a leak.

We phoned the OB on call for my practice (Dr. M. responded – who the heck was she?) and she suggested we go to the hospital to be checked out. She assured us that if there were no contractions, I would probably be sent home. Grab the packed bag. This is happening, maybe!

Upon arriving at the hospital, Alec found some pretty good street parking and I ambled in leaking small amounts of fluid with every step. It was exciting for sure, but also rather odd.

Preeclampsia, huh?
In maternity triage, the staff checked my vital signs. Using a monitor, the intake nurses determined I was already having contractions that I couldn’t feel. Woohoo! This was gonna be easy. They also noticed that my blood pressure was way too high, indicating preeclampsia that had not yet been diagnosed. I didn’t realize what that word would mean for my health and safety, I was just a little disappointed.

I was especially bummed because I pride myself on easy-to-find veins and low blood pressure (I used to compete coworkers in the public blood-pressure-cuffs to see who could be the lowest. We’d practice stressing each other out. Yeah, that sounds weird to me too).

So, what I didn’t know at the time was this: preeclampsia is one of the few conditions in today’s modern medicine that can still kill a mother during childbirth. I’m glad I didn’t know. I assumed it was an inconvenience but that we’d be back to the birth plan in no time.

My sister, Meggan, was my doula. She arrived in the normal part of the morning with the yoga/birth ball from home and stayed with me and Alec for the duration of my long labor. Together, they were able to trade off when one needed a break or a snack from Whole Foods. She also kept me entertained, distracted, and focused as needed.

To combat the preeclampsia, nurses hooked me up to constant fetal monitoring, an IV drip of magnesium to prevent maternal seizures, and pitocin to keep contractions going. The pitocin and the magnesium work at odds, so I was a science experiment to find the right proportions of potions to keep labor moving forward safely. With all the wires and tubes, I was also required to stay in bed with a catheter and foley bag. Bye bye, birth ball and “no pitocin” birth plan.

Once the real labor set in, I no longer thought it was easy and I was awesome. Bring on the epidural please. What’s one more chemical in my modified bloodstream anyway?

We had many many hours to work on pain management since the labor was very long. My first anesthesiologist didn’t do it right, the pain kept coming. My second anesthesiologist didn’t do it right, he temporarily paralyzed me below my neck. My third anesthesiologist (pictured below) had the magic touch. I don’t know his name but I remember a few key details: his wife was expecting a baby; he was small and Asian; and he not only believed me when I said that redheads are more sensitive to pain, but he had read the same study and told me why (we have dryer skin and it tears more easily). Bless him.

I also remember that we watched About a Boy on the laptop. See the huge speakers below? How big was our bag?

The doctors changed shifts many times throughout my labor, and each one would check me out briefly and suggest that I get a C-section. She would then change her mind because my baby was still registering a very strong heartbeat and Meggan was a very strong advocate for me.

Counting from when my water broke, it was forty hours of laboring bullshit with nothing but ice chips for food before I was given the go-ahead to push. I was exhausted in a whole new way. The nurses gave me hits off the oxygen tank to keep my spirits and energy up. Every so often, I would beg for ice chips until they told me I had reached my quota.

And then came four hours of pushing. Four fucking hours. They went something like this: rest, beg for ice and/or oxygen, wait for a contraction, push my hardest while Alec, Meggan, and the nursing staff took turns pulling my legs back froggy style.

After 3:45 of this nonsense, the doctor speculated that my baby’s head was tilted and that she should do a C-section after all. NOOOOO! If you were going to cut the baby out of me, couldn’t we have done that yesterday or the day before?!! She said, “well we could try the vacuum extraction once or twice.” Yes, please.

And on the very last chance before they promised me a C-section, the doctor vacuum-slurped my baby-out with an exaggerated cone-head. Sweet relief.

“Heather, do you want to hold your baby? It’s a boy”
“May I please have a turkey sandwich first?”

Drunk from the exertion, medication, and hunger, I didn’t feel connected to the situation. I even had trouble aiming the coveted turkey sandwich in my mouth. Once I had some food, I deliriously snuggled up to this cone-headed infant making sure that Alec was spotting me. I had no strength for much of anything.

Meggan says, “My favorite part actually was when they started to threaten a c-section, and I asked you what you wanted to do- childbirth or c-section. You said you were afraid of both. So I asked you which you feared more and you said major surgery. So we went with childbirth. Once you made that decision you were like a warrior and you didn’t stop laboring and pushing until he was out. I also remember Holden’s look when he came out like he was thinking WTF?!? All those med students had come into the room while we were lifting your legs to push so we hadn’t noticed. You pushed for four hours and labored I think for forty.”

He was born around 10pm on Thursday night. We named him Holden, a name on which we had easily agreed. We still had two girl names in our back pocket just in case. Because we hadn’t sent news, our friends assumed that we had long had the baby and were nesting. Ha!

Recovery was about a week before the high blood pressure subsided. I would hear whooshing in my ears whenever I leaned over until it corrected itself. At one point it was 200/100.