I began Googling “animals with long gestation periods” at 40 weeks. When I came across the manatee’s 12-month gestation, I felt a bit better. Yes, I resembled a manatee by then, but at least I didn’t have another two months of pregnancy to endure — as long as someone else had it worse, you know. Googling in the middle of the night by the insomniac glow of my phone was the last thing I should have been doing, but I felt desperate and swollen and nauseous from 10 months of hyperemesis gravidarum, staring down the barrel of what would become a 42-week pregnancy. So manatee gestation it was.
I had reasons to be thankful in my first pregnancy. It was very easy for me to *get* pregnant. While I threw up almost all day and into the night, the baby developed normally. My blood pressure remained low even as my feet grew from size 8 to size 11. I was not preeclamptic. All good things. However, there were signs of trouble. I failed my glucose test, with a very low blood sugar level of 45, when it should have been somewhere between 78 and 108. That was no surprise since I was unable to eat even with steady doses of Phenergan and Zofran.
My midwife told me maybe my dates were off. I knew they weren’t.
I went to birthing classes and, in between bouts of vomiting, I refused to go to the c-section explanation class. My birth plan was long and detailed, with a long list of “nos.” No vacuum suction. No forceps. No c-section. No internal monitor. No induction. No Pitocin. No epidural. I should have known better. Looking back, I am jealous of manatees with no birth plan.
At Thanksgiving, I was at the magical 38-week mark. I felt safe if I gave birth. My doctor told me first babies might be late. My midwife (first-time mom confession here — I had an OB and a midwife) told me maybe my dates were off. I knew they weren’t. I had conceived doing a 2001 version of natural family planning; I knew my due date.
At my 40-week visit, everything looked good. I was not even a fingertip dilated. They sent me home and told me to watch for contractions. I had no idea what contractions felt like. Trusty Google gave me descriptions from “slightly worse menstrual cramps” to “like a truck driving into your abdomen.” I knew I would know contractions when they arrived. At 41 weeks, I went back to the doctor. They again questioned my dates. Measurements indicated the baby was nearly 8 pounds. Everything was on track except for the important thing: labor.
I asked if they made everyone go this long. Their response was it was a first baby and they preferred to let nature take its course.
I had such difficult pregnancy symptoms that when I felt off at 41+ weeks, I knew it was a big deal. At a few days shy of 42 weeks, I suddenly felt nothing. I made another trip to the doctor, unscheduled. They reluctantly did a non-stress test. It was inconclusive. At that point, I was beginning to question everything the doctor’s office was doing. I asked if they made everyone go this long. Their response was it was a first baby and they preferred to let nature take its course. If that meant going a week or two beyond 40 weeks, that was their policy. Their natural solution was to jump start labor by “stripping my membranes.” To pregnant women: be ready for this seemingly innocuous action. You can’t see what they are doing at 42 weeks. But you can see what looks like a knitting needle headed for your nether regions. I nearly fell off the table and made an audible scream as they did the stripping.
By that point, I was mad at everyone who told me the baby just needed more time to cook. My baby wasn’t cooking. He wasn’t moving. It wasn’t cute. I didn’t check Google. I didn’t listen to any more well-meaning advice.
The membrane stripping did its work. My water broke in the wee hours. Instantly, my Google research on contractions was proven wrong. My contractions were 10- to 15-minute-long clusters of pain that sent me to my knees. I knew that wasn’t right. When we got to the hospital, I was not dilated. Not even a little bit. At that point, the hospital staff began crossing off the “no’s” on my list. Pitocin drip. Internal monitor. Epidurals.
My midwife was with me because my doctor was busy delivering 24-week preemies. Those opposite babies of mine: a delicate 24 weeks versus my overcooked 42 weeks. What I didn’t know then was that my end of the spectrum is also dangerous. I finally got to 6 centimeters on the dilation scale after 25 hours of labor (don’t let labor go that long after your water breaks). My heartbeat spiked to near 200 beats per minute. Worse, the baby’s blood pressure significantly dropped with each contraction. There was concern but the nurse just upped my Pitocin. Every two minutes, I had a gut-wrenching contraction and both heart rate monitors went nuts. The Pitocin drip finally did the trick. Contractions every two minutes eventually pushed me to 10 centimeters of dilation. It was the magic number that was supposed to solve all of the problems: 10. It turned out it didn’t solve anything.
More things on my 'no' list were checked off. Forceps. Vacuum extractor. His entire hand. There was a small nightclub up inside of me.
The doctor finally arrived. He could see the baby’s head. And more things on my “no” list were checked off. Forceps. Vacuum extractor. His entire hand. There was a small nightclub up inside of me. He brought in a tray of scissors. No manatee faces embroidery scissors at birth. I knew a c-section was inevitable. I was hangry, and not going to get cut in two painful places — if it was going to wind up being a c-section, he could at least spare my perineum. I told him in my “I am 42 weeks pregnant and I will cut you” voice that if he cut me THERE too, I would kick him in the face. Hard.
(I couldn’t actually kick him because my legs were numb.)
When I finally came to, drugged up on more morphine with my baby in my grip, my husband reluctantly told me he watched them pull the baby back up from the birth canal.
He stopped to check our heart rates again, then declared it was c-section time.
He put Duramorph directly into my spinal tap and I went to sleep for the delivery. I didn’t have that detail on my “no” list. I didn’t specify “would like to be awake for delivery.”
When I finally came to, drugged up on more morphine with my baby in my grip, my husband reluctantly told me he watched them pull the baby back up from the birth canal. He said the cord was wrapped around our son twice like a seatbelt. All those cluster contractions were my baby being pulled up into the birth canal on bungee cord. It was why the forceps and all the invasive methods failed.
Going to 42 weeks meant a week in the hospital for both of us, morphine, an extremely jaundiced baby on a Bili blanket and, in the long-term, a warning not to conceive for 18 months. It also meant breastfeeding was very hard. My husband instinctively knew that the last box left on the birth plan needed to stay checked: no formula. Even as I tried to wake up, he carefully put drops of water from a syringe into the baby’s mouth and fought off the quickly-offered formula. When I was pregnant with kid number two, I found out I had Group B strep from my 25 hours between water breaking and delivery.
I felt like it was my fault somehow. I had failed to progress.
Mysteriously, there were no chart notes after hour four. No hourly notations of heart rate. Just “emergency c-section due to failure to progress.” I felt like it was my fault somehow. I had failed to progress.
My second baby was a scheduled c-section due to the Group B strep. I changed doctors and hospitals. It was another difficult pregnancy and at nearly age 35, I was labeled high-risk. This baby decided to preempt her scheduled c-section and arrive by a very NOT scheduled c-section at 38 weeks. Unlike her brother who was not fashionally late, kid decided to enact Braxton-Hicks contractions on me from 24 weeks forward. Even though I desperately wanted a vaginal birth after Caesarean to make up for the disaster that was birth number one, my doctor determined the Group B made that too dangerous. She was also concerned I might fail to progress again.
The early contractions, while scary, had zero dilation results. I listened. I also decided I would split the 25 hours of labor with Kid 1 in half and count it for the labor I didn’t get with Kid 2. At 38 weeks, the contractions sped up and we made a quick trip to the hospital for a c-section. And were home again in less than 48 hours because it was “just” a c-section.
How long ago was this? In two weeks that 42-weeker will be 16. An honor student. Learning to drive. Trying to cut a new cord. And yet, every detail of the good, the bad and the 42 weeks of it all is still burned into my brain. Sixteen years ago, I was sitting at my computer frantically Googling manatee gestation and “what do contractions feel like?”
Moral of the story: don’t invite me to baby showers. Trust your instincts. If it is 42 weeks or 24 weeks or even just an ordinary 40 weeks; make doctors and midwives listen to you. Listen to your body. And stay off Google. And WebMD. And National Geographic.
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