24 August 2011

our little earlybird

That last photo of me at 30 weeks was the last one taken of me pregnant. A week later, we had the shock of our lives. I'm not sure that I've actually pieced it all together until now. Anyway, it happened like this...

On the weekend I caved in to my nesting energy and cleaned and scrubbed the floors. As in, on my knees. And then walked to the video store. And back. Up a stupidly big hill. So on Monday, I attributed the mounting back and pelvic pain I was feeling to over exertion. On Tuesday it got worse and I left work early feeling headachey and 'off'. That night I could not get comfortable on the couch and as soon as I went to bed noticed the pain was actually coming and going. Harbouring terrible suspicions, I googled 'early onset labour' and spent a mostly sleepless night in considerable discomfort and denial, thinking 'it can't be, this is too soon'. I got myself a hot water bottle and practised the positions I learnt in yoga. K, home from the Island two days early for training (thank god), got some (but not much) sleep.

Soon as the sun came up I called my midwife and reached one of the other midwives in my group - my midwife was on annual leave. I explained the pain I was having. Maria told me to meet her at the pregnancy assessment and observation unit at hospital at 9am. Her lack of concern relaxed me a bit. Our hospital is just round the corner so we ate breakfast and got ready. I remember thinking in the shower that I would really take to the bath when it came time to actually give birth, as the hot water was great for easing the pain. Denial still intact. We packed a bag of snacks and I threw in my hypno-birthing book and K threw in his board shorts (for the bath/shower)... just in case.

At hospital I was shown to a recliner but couldn't sit down. Finally someone came and took us into a room for tests. I had to lay on the bed on my back which was so uncomfortable. We both relaxed a bit more when we heard the Bunyip's heartbeat. I was given antibiotics for a suspected urinary tract infection. And panadeine, suggested when a very annoying doctor said I looked like I was in a lot of pain. The final assessment was an internal ultrasound. The operator mucked around for a few minutes, then looked disbelieving and uttered the words "fully effaced". I then proceeded to have one of those strangely calm 'this is not happening' moments. I'd always skipped over the 'premature babies' section in Up the Duff. Why would I need to read that?

Maria put on her best faux-calm face and said "right, this baby is coming, we need to prepare for birth suite" and relayed the excellent outcomes for babies born at 31 weeks. K and I looked at each other (more faux-calm) and said stuff like "we'll be fine". I got a jab of steroids in the leg to help ready Bunyip's under-developed lungs. Maria said I'd done really well to complete the first stage of labour without much pain, to which I replied, "actually it WAS a lot of pain", and to K, "I told you it hurt". He'd been worried my pain threshold was really low because I tend to yelp - through surprise more than pain - at minor stuff. Scoff.
Let me just say, we feel so incredibly lucky to have a gorgeous healthy baby, delivered without any cutting or instruments. But because it happened nine weeks early, everything else was the complete opposite of the birth I had hoped for and visualised. The next eleven hours went something like this... wheelchair, hospital gown, continuous electronic fetal monitoring. Which meant laying on my back - or at a pinch, on my side, since my entire labour was IN MY BACK (Bunyip was posterior, like me as I later found out). During this time, no food, limited fluid intake (I verged on dehydration), no toilet, a procession of doctors, student doctors and internal exams. Once in birth suite, Maria told me I could start pushing, which I did for a while. A subsequent internal exam by one of the doctors showed I was in fact only about 7cm dilated, so I now had to supress the urge to push - which was a bit like trying to stop going to the toilet once you've started after you've been hanging on forever, plus BUCKETLOADS of pain. Contractions were short but intense and coming one on top of the other. The only thing I could remember from yoga was the breathing - not strange considering I could not use any of the movements in my prostate position. (I discovered K has some degree of post-traumatic stress the other day when I breathed out with 'horsey' lips, which I am now forbidden to do, ever again). I remember vowing to never clean the floors again. For the record, it was a urinary tract infection - not the floor-cleaning - that brought labour on early.

After possibly an hour or several (time blur) of trying to breathe through contractions and eventually becoming unconvinced that I was not pushing, I told Maria it was getting increasingly difficult. In hindsight, I am not convinced that she or the doctors could really tell how my labour was progressing - at one point I got the severe shakes and thought I was going to vomit and recognised this as transition, however it was ages before anyone gave me the all-clear to push.

Anyway, the doctors told us Bunyip's water bag was bulging and they were worried about cord prolapse - serious but more readily managed than placental abruption which was also on the cards and the reason for various interventions which were suggested to us. Poor K, I realised about a week afterwards, was quietly falling apart on his quick 'breaks' (read difficult phone updates to parents) outside the birth suite, worried he was going to lose one of us. I was too focused on managing the pain to register how he was doing or really think much about the possibility of anything other than a healthy baby... I was so focused I couldn't even look at K or at doctors when they came and spoke to us, though listened intently and kept my talking to a bare minimum as even that required energy I could not spare.

Despite my focus, I was aware of tensions between Maria and some of the doctors - apparently she copped a serve for letting me start pushing early. As unsettling and distracting as this was, I was glad I'd read about the medical and midwifery approaches to labour in The Birth Wars, and the potential for these tensions to affect outcomes.

Knowing that any intervention was likely to kick off a cascade of same, I eventually agreed to an epidural (the upside being it was our decision, made after much deliberation and out of concern for Bunyip's wellbeing), to having my waters broken with one of those needle things (again for Bunyip's wellbeing), and after little progress (probably because I was laying down), Syntocinin (to speed things up for little Bunyip). And some other injection (whatever) to expel the placenta (due to concerns of excessive bleeding). All these had been definitely off the cards up until the moment we conceded their necessity for our tiny babe.

On one of his 'breaks', K told me a swarm of neonatal resus people had converged on the little antechamber next to the birth suite. Which was reassuring but at the same time quite worrying. After what seemed like forever, it was declared I could now push, which was much easier than managing contractions - though perhaps this is the epidural talking? I pushed for a while for what seemed like little progress. Unfortunately the epidural meant it was hard to tell where the baby was, until he was ready to be born and I felt the sting. It was the most amazing thing to watch his head emerge! My hopes that K would catch the baby were now all but lost in the thick of events.

Though things didn't go as we'd expected, there were some good bits. The choices sucked, but they were still our choices. Maria was awesome. She met me at hospital at 9am and wheeled me to my room just shy of midnight, and in between was a staunch advocate. We had a great doctor for Bunyip's birth (not the annoying one), the only OB I'd seen (once) during my pregnancy. He was on my wavelength. I was chuffed that I managed the pain without letting it dominate me, though admittedly the epidural I was never going to have was a godsend, even if at the business end it was only working on my left side.

And the truly great bits... K stuck with me like glue and kept me positive and calm throughout. We helped keep each other together, I think. We watched our baby being born. And discovered he was a boy! When he plopped out, he gazed slowly at us and let out a cry before being rushed to the resus room next door. Our little boy was fine - a lot of bruising to his poor little noggin after sitting so low inside me, and on oxygen for 16 hours - but otherwise great. He has wispery beach blonde hair and the cutest little lamb's bleat that makes my heart melt.

So many nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit have said he's a great size for his age. I was so chuffed when one commended me for feeding him so well. I know I did, but it was so lovely to have someone who wasn't there, and doesn't know me, recognise it. Especially because I feel like I didn't finish growing him. And am now was struggling to feed him.

The saddest part has been the separation. Not getting to hold him until day two (or three? I can't remember now). This is our first cuddle... can you tell we've been teary? I held him and all I could think was how small he was and that I wanted to put him back inside.

It was also hard being plonked in a room on the maternity ward after the birth, with a woman and her bub, born two hours after mine. Spending that night on my own without K, in that room, in utter disbelief and sadness. No baby in my belly, no baby in my arms. And every day thereafter, leaving him at hospital every night, though it has got a lot easier. I need to constantly remind myself how lucky we are to have him, healthy and growing and coming home to us soon. I am crying writing this, nearly three weeks later. I sometimes get flushes of jealousy when I see very pregnant women - and there are many where I spend my days at the Mater Mothers Hospital. I missed almost the entire third trimester... we didn't even get to our antenatal classes (so thankful I did active birth yoga really early).

It's a strange sadness, mixed with elation. There is a video of me touching Ellery in his humidicrib, at two or three days old. I'm smiling, but it's a smile I've never seen on my face before. Like I've been pummelled by love, bloated with pride, and strung out with weariness.

And now, four weeks after his birth, the days are becoming more joyous as we bond and learn to breastfeed. He'll be in neonatal care until we have breastfeeding down solid. Yesterday the nurses started talking about it being only a matter of a week or two before we can bring him home. And we still have no clothes that fit him (he swims in four '0's), no nappies, no change mat, pram, anything really. We were so unprepared. But in another sense, so ready for this, the completely unexpected. 

The past four weeks have been the ultimate surrender. 

Welcome to the world, gorgeous little boy.

Ellery Sage Lusk, born 9.06pm, 27 July 2011 at 31 weeks and one day, weighing 1922 grams (about 4 ounces).

Life After Desk begins again...