~ Meet Penelope Faith
It's been two months since I gave birth, and I have put off telling this story because I wanted to be in a good mental place so I could give it a happier ending. This birth was the most traumatic thing physically and maybe emotionally that has ever happened to me, and it took awhile to see it in a positive light. So, now that I'm healed, sleeping reasonably well, and really loving my daughter, it's time to tell the tale of how she was born.
The days before Christmas, I was on pins and needles. Everyone I knew who was pregnant had given birth early, so I was really annoyed that I didn't seem to be falling into that category. My doctor was out of town for Christmas, and, while I wanted him to be the one to actually deliver the baby, I was so ready to be done being pregnant that by the time he left town I just didn't care anymore! But the holidays came and went without incident.
I made it to the 31st, which was the day he came back. I had an appointment that afternoon and it turned into a long one! He did an ultrasound to make sure everything was ok, and as it turned out I had low amniotic fluid. So then they ran the baby heart monitor on me for at least a half hour. He said he'd have me come in every other day and if the baby showed stress he'd induce me. If I didn't go into labor by Thursday, January 6, however, I was going to be induced anyway. As fun as that was to hear, I kind of just wished I could be induced right away and not have to worry about getting monitored every other day for a week.
That night, after staying up late for New Year's at my parents' house, Tory and I went home and went to bed. I was too wound up to go to sleep right away, and somewhere around 3 am, right as I started dozing off, I felt some contractions. They were uncomfortable, and came every five minutes or so. I wasn't sure if it was real labor, so I wandered around the house for nearly two hours before waking Tory up to tell him I was pretty sure it was labor. By then they hurt more and were every five minutes pretty consistently. We went to the hospital, a very surreal experience as it was a nice 45 minute drive in the dark through the Arizona desert.
Once at the hospital, they put me in a maternity triage type bed to see if I was going to stay for sure. I was super disappointed to discover I was STILL only 1 cm dilated, although I was 80% effaced I think. By then I was pretty uncomfortable and had been in labor for at least four hours. I started puking, which was awful, and I got the shivers, both of which I do when in pain or my body's in stress. And still nine more centimeters to go!
Thankfully, I looked so miserable that when my doctor came in to do a c-section on another patient, he checked in on me and decided to keep me and induce that day if necessary. I was relieved but not really thinking about having a baby at that point, only the monumental task of getting through nine more centimeters! He said I could have an epidural at any time, but I thought it didn't make sense to get one at only 1 centimeter, so I kept on going med free.
We finally got a real room, and even with the pain of labor, that was pretty exciting. The room was huge and pretty swanky, with a great view of the mountains around Phoenix and a beautiful early morning sun. At that point I felt pretty optimistic, although was really only focused on labor. So I labored. And labored.
Somewhere around 2 pm, the contractions started to get REALLY intense. They hurt a LOT, and there was a lot of back pain with them. It took every ounce of strength and composure I had to breathe through those. At that point, I had been in labor for 10 hours medication free, and while I wanted to go further I realized I was pretty much at the end of my pain tolerance. I asked for an epidural, and was thrilled when the nurse checked me and I was actually at 4 centimeters! However, the pain honestly was far worse than what one would normally experience at only 4 cm, and the contractions were about one to two minutes apart at that point.
The epidural was like magic. I can't even begin to tell you how awesome it was when that medication kicked in. My whole body got relaxed and warm, my pain went away, and my legs were difficult to move but I could still feel my toes. The only down side was I was stuck in bed, but after pacing all day in pain, this was great too! However, as epidurals often do, this one slowed my labor down a fair amount. For the next several hours I made NO progress at all. My OB/GYN was busy with a bunch of other patients, so it took awhile before my nurse was able to get a hold of him and get some pitocin started.
After the pitocin, things went a little faster. My nurse told me the baby was turned some, her face being up instead of down. According to her, that meant a much longer and harder labor for me, and a lot more pushing.
The sun went down and I was still laboring. Hours passed. By midnight I was getting close to being ready, but my doctor got called to an emergency c-section at another hospital. By the time I could actually start pushing, it was 3 am and I had been in labor for about 24 hours. My nurse, Paula, was great - very nice and straightforward about everything. I started pushing with her, but I could tell I wasn't getting anywhere. Each time it was time to push, I just couldn't feel the pressure or the head really coming down like it was supposed to. Then the baby's heart rate started dropping when I was pushing, so we only pushed on every third contraction, and they put me on oxygen.
Right before the doctor came in, I started to get a temperature. My nurse was concerned, but the doctor said there wasn't time to administer antibiotics to me because the baby needed to come out ASAP. He looked pretty serious at this point, and got out the "vacuum" to help deliver.
This is where things start to get more serious, but no one knew how bad they would actually get. I think I was starting to feel kind of sick at this point, but thought I was just tired from being awake for 36 hours and in labor for 24 of them. The doctor attached the vacuum thingy to my baby's head and started yanking each time I pushed. I couldn't feel a lot, but he said I was tearing pretty badly, so that was another thing going kind of wrong. All the sudden, I felt some pressure- and then there was a little bloody, poop covered, crying baby in his arms!
I was so surprised to see a baby I just said, "Oh my gosh, it's a baby!" How could she be out all the sudden? I was so tired that I felt almost no emotions other than just sort of surprise that she was here, and some confusion that it was over, and interest to see what she looked like. They took her over to clean her off, and then brought her over so Tory and I could see her. It was a great moment, but I still sort of felt emotionally numb. While we were looking at her, I saw the doctor look at the nurse and say, "I had to manually deliver the placenta." I believe this means he actually had to stick his arm inside me and scrape the placenta off my uterus with his hand. Ew. There was a lot of blood everywhere, and as he started to stitch me up, he kept having to ask for more sutures.
The nurses were attending to Penelope and she looked healthy! I think this is when they took her to the nursery to run some tests. They were going to give her some antibiotics because of my temperature, but otherwise she checked out. I just felt exhausted and wanted to sleep more than anything else.
When my family came back in,I had a chance to have Penny try to latch on, which she did for a few minutes. It's all a big blur as I try to remember it. I think my condition was going downhill fast already, and no one had realized it quite yet.
Then, after my family left, I tried to lie down and sleep. That's when the epidural wore off, rather quickly, and the pain came rushing in. In just a few minutes my body started to feel REALLY bad. Then my arms went numb and I had trouble seeing. I started sort of crying/whimpering and told Tory I felt really bad, and suddenly the nurse was there, springing into action. I started to freak out because I felt so awful and I was on the verge of passing out. I heard the nurse say two things "she's septic" and she said my blood pressure had drastically dropped to 50 something over 30 something…which is very, very dangerous.
Then there were a lot of strange doctors and nurses in the room. I was hanging on with all my might to remain conscious, because I thought passing out would be losing what little control and health I had left. So, I closed my eyes and started breathing deeply and slowly. I only opened them when someone spoke to me and to occasionally look at Tory to let him know I was still alive. However, seeing his teary eyes and tired face was difficult to look at, and thinking about what he must be thinking about.
I really couldn't focus on most of the commotion; I was trying SO hard to not pass out and stay as calm as I possibly could. I heard my doctor tell me that I had contracted some kind of infection which had gone septic, which means it had suddenly ravaged my entire body and I was extremely ill. Basically I was going into shock because of it. I had lost a lot of blood as well from the delivery, and was being transferred to the ICU. THAT didn't sound good. Everyone kept saying "You're going to be ok," which ironically made me wonder why did they have to keep telling me that? I did at one point think if I died that there wasn't really anything I could do to prevent it and if it was time to meet God, then I had to be ok with that. I was, but I really wanted to stay around and help Tory with our new baby - how could he do it alone?
Then we were rolling down the hall to the ICU, and there were even more people fussing over me. I was hooked up to a plethora of machines, given tons of fluids, 3 different antibiotics, and 3 units of blood. Tory was just watching in tired, teary eyed disbelief the whole time. That was the worst part. I know he called the family at some point to let them know what was going on, and I can only imagine how difficult those conversations must have been, too.
The PAIN. This whole time I was in so much pain. It felt like there was a bowling ball of pressure and pain sitting on my pelvic floor, and it was unbearable. I kept asking for pain meds, but they said my blood pressure was too low. I couldn't believe that I was too sick even for pain meds.
I don't know how long I was in the ICU before I really opened my eyes - probably about an hour. My blood pressure started to go up after getting fluids, so it was in the 70's over 50's for awhile, and it got even better after that. I felt a lot better after my blood pressure stabilized, but the pain was still off the charts. My tailbone felt bruised from the inside thanks to Penny's head pressing on it, and I'm guessing my tear was a lot worse than they initially thought. I kept shaking uncontrollably from the pain alone. Plus, the nurses kept pressing on my stomach to feel where my uterus had shrank, and that hurt a heck of a lot too.
Finally, I don't know how long it was, I was given some strong medication, and the flurry finally stopped. I was alone in the ICU with Tory and the nurse. I felt somewhat better and started wondering "what the heck just happened to me?" I only saw Penny once or twice that entire day, when Tory wheeled her down from the nursery.
I had to stay in the hospital for three days after that. These were some of the longest days of my life. I had antibiotics to finish, a catheter in me for several days, I swelled up all ugly and puffy from the fluids, and there was constant monitoring of my blood pressure, blood counts, and other things I can't remember. I was in a LOT of pain and was having trouble bonding with Penny because I felt so awful. People came and went for visits, but I only remember some of them. My family was a great help, and Tory had to deal with me, them, and be Penny's main parent. To top it all off, Penny was very colicky and if she wasn't sleeping, she was crying. We had to send her to the nursery at night because she would just cry and cry, and I felt awful about that too. I was worried my husband wasn't going to be able to handle the frustration of her crying for hours (and I have to admit I'm still struggling with that).
By the time I was healthy enough to go home, I was anxious, exhausted, and NOT ready to be a mother. I was still in a lot of pain, had discovered I was almost completely incontinent after they removed the catheter, and I had not slept well in nearly a week. My colostrum had come in, but not my milk, so trying to get Penny to latch on while feeding her formula through a little tube so she would eat was very complicated. Plus, she had this tendency to push away from my breast the hungrier she got, so it was tough to get her to take milk even though she was desperate to get it.
Thankfully, for several days, my mom and sister Lisa (in town from New York) stayed with me around the clock and gave me and Tory breaks from our crying baby. I cried a lot every day, and everyone had to sort of rally around me to keep me going.
Then Lisa went back to New York, and Tory went back to work. The next few weeks were very tough, and I had to pray daily and remind myself to just take it literally one hour at a time. I knew I was very close to going into postpartum depression, so I really relied on my mother coming over every day to help me catch up on sleep and hold Penny while I took sitz baths and had some brief moments to myself. My milk came in, and the flow was pretty good. Penny only had one or two supplemental feedings of formula a day, and those were just to give me a break.
During this time, Penny cried a lot. At first we figured we just got a colicky baby, because we had nothing to compare it to, but she probably cried at least five or six hours a day. We had been told she would have quiet alert times and active alert times, but she really didn't seem to have those. Her cycles would be eat, be sleepy for a little bit, then cry, and cry uncontrollably, like something was really wrong. It was so hard to try and not freak out every time she did that. We would have to walk her and bounce her until she would doze off to sleep. When she woke up, we started the cycle again.
About 3-4 weeks after she was born, I got up to change her at 4 am, and her diaper was orange, with blobs of red in it. There was BLOOD in her diaper. Talk about a moment of terror. I looked up bloody diapers on the internet, and found out it wasn't quite as scary as it sounds, that she probably had a cow's milk protein allergy and it irritated the lining of her intestines.
The next day we went to the pediatrician, and that's what the diagnosis was. So I was told to cut dairy out of my diet, which I did. We saw nominal improvement for a bit, but then things got worse. On Valentines' Day she had a diaper that was so bloody that the leg holes had red soaking them. That was when I got REALLY worried. We spent Valentine's Day in Phoenix Children's Hospital, getting tests done.
The good news was she didn't have any major health problems. The bad news is that she has food allergies to dairy, soy, and some other things I was eating. The only thing to do was to stop breastfeeding and put her on a super hypoallergenic formula, which costs $25 a can, and that can only lasts her less than 3 days.
I can't believe I had to stop breastfeeding. My mom was a Le Leche League leader for pete's sake! But this is one of those rare cases where it was truly best for my child to not get breastmilk. I would have to cut out dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, nuts, fish, shellfish, and I can't even remember what else they said if I wanted to continue with it. I had several doctors and all the women I know tell me it was really ok to just do formula, and probably much better for me.
Penny is now two months old. She is growing into the cutest little girl you can possibly imagine. She looks so much like I did when I was a baby, but with slightly more delicate features so she's prettier than I was. She is about 9 pounds now, quite a bit more than the 6 pounds 13 ounces she was when she was born. She has started to smile, which is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Her crying is SO much less, and while she is still on the fussy side, it is worlds different than what she was before going just to formula.
Now we are a little family. It's still surreal, crazy, exhausting, but it's starting to be kind of fun. It's still so much work, and I forget to be happy a lot of the time, but I am starting to really enjoy Penny. She's just so stinking cute, and she seems to get cuter every day. I'm mostly healed up and feeling a lot better physically, so that's a big difference too. Hopefully within a few more months we'll be in a great little groove. I'm really looking forward to it now.
There's no way to sum up this whole experience because it changes every day. It doesn't end, it just always feels like it is beginning. Babies change so quickly, and you discover something new daily. So, here's to the next few months and years, discovering all that will unfold.
January 2, 2011, 3:53 am
6 pounds 13 ounces