When a child is born: Part 1

As you are probably aware last week I returned to blogging for the first time since my son was born about six months ago.

This is the story of how he came to be born.

This post is not a birth "horror story" but if you think you'd be happier avoiding the topic altogether then this would be your chance to go find some baby goats to look at. I like these ones.

It's also worth remembering that we're fine now. So shall we?

At the very end of Spring last year I was booked in for an ultrasound scan.

I'd finished work three weeks earlier and we were living in our temporary earthquake accommodation. The repairs on our house, which were originally to be completed in two days time, had run over by a week but the completion date was still two weeks before my due date so we should be okay.

It's not usual for pregnant women to have a scan at 37 weeks gestation, but my midwife thinks the Squishy bump is a bit small and sent for an extra scan at 35 weeks. That scan showed a small baby, within the normal range but with the Silver Fox and I both of above average heights, that seemed unusual. Still, probably nothing to worry about, right? I'm feeling fine and the baby is jitterbugging around in there quite a lot so the level of concern on my part is low to middling.

But during this scan, the technician says that the baby hasn't grown since the scan a fortnight earlier. No growth. At all. To her credit she is very matter fact when pointing this out so neither of us panic, but when the resident doctor speaks to us afterward it is clear that this is Not Very Good. Go home, she says. Pack a bag for the hospital, she says. Your midwife will call you, she says. That baby needs to come out, she says.

Pardon? My sleep-deprived brain slaps itself awake after the words had seeped in far enough. Hang on, are we having a baby TODAY?

And then that selfsame brain, wishing very much that it had stayed asleep, makes this weird white noise for a few minutes. Sort of like the screechy sound you hear when you accidentally dial the number for a fax machine. I think it is rebooting itself.

The SF and I zombie-walk out to the car in a state of bewilderment mixed with panic. Is the baby okay in there? How dire is this? What will happen when we get to the hospital? Will they want to induce me or is it serious enough that they'll need to do a c-section straight away? Is this really happening? And quite a few other things all of which involved curse words. And there may have been some crying.

The SF informs his boss that he will not be in to work that day.

We go home and I repack the bag that I already had packed for the hospital. I do this roughly five times. I note that we don't have very many things for a very small baby to wear.

The midwife contacts us at around 10:00am to say that she's put in an urgent referral to the antenatal clinic at Christchurch Women's hospital and we should get a call from them later about when to go in. In the meantime my brain has decided to shift into organiser mode so as to better avoid thinking about what's happening, and I schedule some automatic payments to cover a couple of bills that are due in the next week.

Bored with waiting, by 11:30am we're on the way to the mall to pick up some baby items we hadn't got around to buying yet. I find a single breastfeeding bra at Farmers that fits me and we get a change mat and some small baby things. I discover that I have very little inclination to talk to nice shop ladies who ask me when I'm due. Earlier in the week these exchanges were lovely but now they stress me out and make me want to lean across the counter, grab them by the lapels and maniacally scream "they might be cutting it out of me TODAY! How d'ya like THEM apples!"

Yes, it's fair to say I was a little bit on edge that morning.

We go home and I try to have a nap but am a bit worried about the baby. It has a good wriggle and that makes me feel better.

By 1:30pm we still haven't heard from the hospital. Does "urgent" mean something different in medical language, we wonder? The midwife reckons if we haven't heard anything by 3:00pm to let her know and she'll follow up.

At 2:30pm the midwife rings to say that the antenatal clinic might not be able to fit us in until tomorrow, but if we meet her at the hospital at 2:45pm she can assess us there and decide what needs to happen. At this point I finally have the wherewithal to ask some questions about what all this might mean. Basically, the fact that the baby hasn't grown in the last couple of weeks probably means that the placenta isn't working properly and it would be best to get the baby out soon. Because if a placenta stops working altogether you're dealing with a dead baby. I would liken it to a flickering fluorescent light. You can tell that it's on its way out but there's no way to predict how long it will take for it to flicker its last. Could be tomorrow, could be next week. I will probably be induced but because the baby is small, if it shows signs of not coping well during the labour a c-section may be necessary.

Wait. Did she just say to be at the hospital in 15 minutes? Eeek!

Panic stations are manned for the second time that day. Honestly, absolutely nothing is happening or it's everything all at once.

We meet the midwife at the hospital and she straps me up to a monitoring device with an elastic band that goes around my tummy. Reassuring Squishy heartbeat noises result as well as seismograph-like squiggles on a length of paper. These squiggles and noises are apparently good ones and by some miracle my blood pressure is fine.  The bad news is that while the midwife was out of the room I'm pretty sure in between heartbeats that I heard something that sounded like a dolphin or a whale. That cannot be normal.

It's decided that I'll be admitted and stay overnight in a ward upstairs and be induced in the morning. The midwife leaves and we wait to be transferred up to the ward. And wait. And wait. In the meantime I call my mum and my sister to let them know what's going on. My sister who lives in Wellington, was going to be visiting Christchurch over Christmas and I told her if the baby arrived while she was here that she could be present at the birth. So that plan has gone a bit pear-shaped. She sounds kind of disappointed but I have more important things to worry about.

At 6ish a registrar comes to talk to me about what's happening and to give a bit more detail about how they will induce me. Apparently they will be inserting a catheter with a balloon on the end of it up into my cervix and inflating it. This simulates the pressure of the baby's head on the cervix and can start labour.

Hey everybody, there's a party in my uterus and there are balloons! 

If the baby grows up to be a circus clown because of this I will sue.

But the balloon party sounds all very jolly, anyway. Very jolly indeed. As it turns out, it was very much NOT jolly, but we'll get to that.

At around 6:30pm I'm finally transferred upstairs to the ward. My sister rings around half an hour later to say she's got a flight for that night and will be able to come to the birth. I think it's sweet that she's so keen to be involved and I'm pleased she'll be able to make it after all.

I spend my first night in the hospital and actually manage to get a bit of sleep.

The next morning comes and there is no induction taking place. It will be lunchtime, I am told.

Lunchtime comes and goes and there is no induction. Various nurses come and do checks and I periodically get wired up so doctors can come and inspect the baby's heart-trace and fortunately everything is still peachy in there. The induction will be in the afternoon.

The afternoon comes and goes and still no induction. In the meantime I've signed a release in case a c-section is needed and been jabbed in the bum with some steroids which will help the baby's lungs - which are probably a touch underdeveloped - cope after it's born.

The reason for the delay is that apparently our dodgy placenta issue has come up just when the maternity ward is both very busy and understaffed. Apparently women are terrifically keen to have babies just at that moment. Chuck in a couple of twin births which are generally more complicated and require more staff and you've got a labour ward that is at maximum capacity. Nobody wants to induce me until they know they've got enough staff to cover, especially if a c-section is needed.

Around dinnertime the decision is made to go ahead with the induction.

Inductions are often done with a Prostaglandin gel which releases hormones and gets the whole labour ball rolling, however this method can result in a more intense labour which a small baby like mine might not cope well with. Hence the balloon party Foley Catheter solution.

When somebody says they're going to stick an inflatable rubber tubey thing into your cervix it doesn't really sound that bad. I mean, it's made of rubber, how uncomfortable could that possibly be?

 I think it all depends a bit on how accommodating your cervix is. Mine is not in a mood to be friendly, apparently. In fact, you'd have a greater chance of getting into a night club wearing trainers and rugby shorts than a catheter has of getting past my cervix-bouncer.

It's hard to blame her though, the old cervix. As far as she knows her job is to keep that baby in for a few more weeks. She's just doing her job, mate. No need to get stroppy.

The first attempt at the Foley catheter is not a great success. It's decided that we'll try again later though I am given the option of just having a caesarean without attempting labour. I consider it but figure we can always go that way later if we have to and opt to have a different doctor try the catheter later on.

At around 9:00pm my cervix is successfully convinced to let a catheter through (and by convinced I mean "bullied"). I'm not going to elaborate on the process but suffice to say, I hope dearly never to have that happen to me ever again. My sister, who has been at the hospital most of the day, and the SF hold a hand each.

They are sent home for the night and I am instructed to get some sleep. With a catheter in place. And a monitoring device strapped to my tummy so I can't roll over. Ha! These medical people, with their jokes!

A couple of hours later I start to get some cramping. A bit like period pains. These show up on the monitoring equipment. Unfortunately they're also accompanied by a sharp drop in the baby's heart rate. Ruh-oh. This is very not fun for me. It's 3 in the morning, I've been at the hospital for 36 hours, I'm tired, alone, uncomfortable and more than a little concerned. Every time the heart rate drops to half of what it should be I quietly whisper to it to come back up. It has started going down more often and staying down for longer.

Doctors stop by and consult the, by now, very long piece of graph paper that shows the baby's heart trace. They examine it with frowns, like modern day shaman consulting runes or looking to divine the future from the entrails of a machine rather than a butchered animal. Eventually I am told that if there is another sharp drop that we'll need to go ahead and have a c-section. I'm inclined to agree. I can see the writing on the uterus and this baby is not going to cope well with labour if it can't even handle a bit of mild cramping without freaking out. Earlier on I had another steroid injection and an IV line put in, just in case this is what happened.

The second the doctor leaves the baby's heart rate plummets again. So that's it. This baby's coming out the sun roof. A little while later someone comes to remove the Foley catheter and I am officially done with labour.

My experience with contractions has lasted less time than it would have taken me to watch Gone with the Wind. Well, fiddle dee dee. I wonder what this caesarean jazz is going to be like?

What's that, nurse? You want to shave some of my pubes off? Oh, I didn't realise it was that kind of party but fair enough, go for your life...

And with that lovely image in mind we leave our intrepid heroine. Later in the week we'll discover that the SF looks really good in surgical scrubs and a very small wriggling human makes an appearance!