Birth: Part one of four

(The following story was written over the course of several months, contains many spelling errors, franglais, grammar errors, repetitions, and is in general not very well written, but it was my intention to get it all down while I still remembered, in the little spare time I could find. I had to rewrite the first two parts after my computer crashed, which added to the amount of time it took. Some of these memories may seem pointless to someone reading, like, why would I want to remember this, but it was such a sensory experience that I figure the things that stick out in my mind are there for a reason. Names have been changed or altered of the hospital staff. Lastly, it may be a little graphic at times. Voila, you have been warned).

Dear Son,

On Friday, the fifth of June, 2009, I walked into Hertford British Hospital in Levallois-Perret for a routine prenatal exam, and never came out again.

That sounds dramatic doesn’t it. Of course, my physical being came out again, ten days later, ten days after I thought I would, but the person who walked out was not the same person that she had been for the previous 34 years. She didn’t walk out empty-handed, for example, the way she had walked in, but moreover, she walked in a childless girl, and walked out a mother.

But more, still. A spiritual transformation took place during those ten days, and that girl was forever changed.

But hang on, before we get into all that, we have to step back a bit earlier. About ten years earlier. We have to step back to the days when I was a university student at UCLA. During that time, I was diagnosed with a peculiar sort of dysfunction. A nice doctor who was following me called it “White coat syndrome”, whereby, whenever I stepped into a doctor’s office, my blood pressure went up, even though when I was at home, it was perfectly normal. This caused me during pregnancy to have to take my blood pressure on a regular basis, and check my pee for signs of protein with test strips given to me by my British GP in Paris, in order to check for signs of pre-eclampsia.

Well, all was fine until my 35th week of pregnancy, when I suddenly noticed that my daily readings were on the high side, even when taken at home. That, coupled with the extraordinarily circumference of my ankles, led me to believe there was a problem.

So now. On the morning of 5 June, I left the apartment in the morning as I had a lunch date with some bloggers at an expat-owned teahouse down in the 13th.

I yelled goodbye to Emma, never dreaming it would be the last time I would see her as a non-mother. If I had known, I would have stayed longer with her, gave her lots of hugs and cuddles as she has always been my mainstay of strength, bravery, courage and reassurance.

But no, I just yelled goodbye to her, and caught a cab, as at 35 weeks, I had decided I could afford to splurge on taxis and not bother with the metro for the remaining (supposed) five or six weeks.

As it was the weekend of Roland Garros, the driver took the peripherique to avoid the traffic, and I looked out the windows of the taxi, passing through the eastern side of Paris.

After lunch, I crossed Paris in the metro back up to  Levallois-Perret, never dreaming it would be the last time I would cross Paris as a non-mother.

The doctor with whom I had an appointment was the brother of a school friend of your papa’s, and had helped us get a place in the BH. This was the first time I was meeting him. He asked me how things were going, and I showed him the paper with my blood pressure numbers for the past week. He reviewed them, agreed that they were alarmingly high, and dropped the bomb that they were going to have to hospitalize me.

This wasn’t the first time I had been hospitalized during my pregnancy, as I had been hospitalized during my 13th week for heavy bleeding, so I really at that point just figured they would keep me overnight and then, seeing everything was ok, would send me home the next day and bring me in periodically over the next weeks for monitoring. I called your papa and told him what was going on, and told him he was going to have to bring me some stuff.

I was shown into a monitoring room, where the Irish midwife who had presided over my preparation classes administered a monitoring for about half an hour. I sat there and read my book about bringing up bilingual children. A nurse asked me if I was having a girl or a boy, when I told her a boy, she said that it was great to have a boy as a firstborn.

After the monitoring, I was shown to a room on the maternity ward. It overlooked the neo-gothic older part of the hospital. As it was already past six which is when dinner is served,  they brought me a fish dinner (they had me listed on the pesco-vegetarian, and let me tell you son, I would have my fair share of fish, omelettes, and tartes au fromage over the next ten days.) I ate my dinner overlooking the view, it was drizzling.

Your papa came to see me that evening, and he brought the following stuff with him:

Burts Bees belly cream and rosemary mint foot cream

-tea : black, Pregnancy tea

-lavender shower gel, Nivea creme, toothbrush and paste, eye gel,

-computer loaded with a couple of downloads to watch, and chargers

-a bar of dark chocolate

-black yoga pants and some shirts

-silk eye pillow

-slippers and warm socks

Corpomed pregnancy pillow (couldn’t sleep without it)

I did some more monitoring that night.

Well, what can I tell you about that first night, I still wasn’t too freaked out, and they didn’t have me on an IV which was nice, and I still kind of figured that I’d be going home in a day or two. That said, I can’t say I slept all that well, it was a hospital after all.

Maybe son, I just can’t remember too much about that first night, but anyway, they did some monitoring, and came in the next morning, and that’s when the proverbial sludge hit the fan, so to speak.

A nice midwife, Em, was the one who followed me that day. She came in the morning to do a monitoring around seven. I was brought breakfast, a dry croissant, tea with milk, yogurt and juice, my breakfast for the next ten days, and then she said a doctor would be along shortly to check on me.

This doctor, (who, granted, I saw after the birth and ended up not being that bad after all), really needed to work on his bedside manner. To my shock, he told me that if my BP did not improve, most likely there would be a declenchement  in the next few days.

A declenchement, son, translates to “induction”.

Well. Did I freak out or what. Not least of which because you were just a day short of 36 weeks, and that I had been taught by the doula who had presided over the other prep class not to trust doctors, that they were very medicalized. I asked him if it was really necessary, couldn’t we wait. He said they would see.

After he left, in a panic I called your papa, and then burst into tears.

One thing I hated about being in the hospital, was the fact that it was impossible to have a good cry as people were constantly knocking only to announce their intention to barge in. While sitting in tears, Em walked in. She was very sweet and rubbed my shoulder and told me “ne vous inquietez pas, bebe va tres bien”. That at 36 weeks, even if it’s a bit early, baby is more than ready to face the world, and that in cases like these, when the pregnancy is putting so much stress on the mother, it doesn’t make sense to continue the pregnancy.

Also, you were already pushing three kilos, which was more than a lot of babies at full-term, so aside from me needing some injections to maturate your lungs, you would be fine coming early.

And, she said, didn’t I want to hold my baby in my arms sooner than I thought?

I laughed, and said “Oui bien sûr”, but son, oh son, can you ever forgive me?

The truth was, I didn’t.

The truth was, I was absolutely terrified of becoming a mother.

I had been looking forward to these last few weeks, as the previous weeks had been spent working on the apartment, and I hadn’t really had time to rest and relax. I had been looking forward to resting, preparing myself, writing in my journal, doing yoga, practicing pain coping techniques, walking and cuddling with the dog, going to my prenatal massage appointment, going to my prenatal yoga class and prenatal aquagym and reflecting about this huge change that was upon me. I still had to come to terms with this life changing alteration.

And here it was. You were most likely coming in a few days.

And I was terrified of an induction too. Your nana had warned me early on, whatever happened, don’t let them induce me. I had heard such horror stories of how much more painful an induction is, and how nature had given women pace in labor to get through the contractions, but that an induction wipes all that away, leads to interventions, etc.

And also, I had been dreaming about going through early labor at home. With Emma to comfort me, I had imagined lighting candles, moving around, getting used to the contractions, drinking raspberry leaf tea, soaking in a hot shower. I saw all that smashed into visions of wires attached to my belly, locked down into a hospital bed, bright fluorescent lights pounding down on me.

A short time later, another doctor came in, a more gentle one. He explained to me once again what was going on. I asked him if I could just quickly go home to pick up some things (and, I thought, say goodbye to my dog, for to be honest it really did feel like I was going away).

And he said, it’s impossible.

That, the next time I left this hospital, my baby would be in my arms.

And there it was. You were arriving imminently.

I called your papa again, and he asked me, what were we going to do. Were we going to question the doctors, like the doula said? Or did they know what they were talking about and an induction would be the best thing? He said he would come by in the afternoon and bring me my birthing things. This is the list I had made:

-Earth Mama Angel Baby Labor massage oil, Labor Tea, Postpartum Tea, Postpartum Bath herbs

-Weleda Perineal massage oil

-a tennis ball in a sock, for lower back massage

-hot water bottle

-warm socks

-lavender water face spray, and Evian face spray (two face sprays, yes)

-Natura postpartum pads

birthing ball

Mothercare postpartum bath robe

In addition to the things on the list, your wonderful papa brought me things that I didn’t even know I needed. Out of the bag, he brought a framed photo of Emma, I cried when I saw it.

He also brought some snacks, dried fruit, chocolate, crackers, things to tide me over. And the water boiler, which was unbelievbably useful. And of course my computer, with a few downloads he had put on there for me to watch, to take my mind off of things.

Your papa stayed with me that afternoon, through in-room monitoring, a walk around the maternity ward. In the afternoon, when it was morning in California, I called your grandparents. Your grandma was on a weekend trip in Santa Fe with friends and I got her voicemail, so I tried your grandpa and explained that the baby would’nt be arrive around his birthday after all. I explained the situation, and while we were talking he googled pre-eclampsia and read me off some information. I called your grandma, got her voicemail again, and left a message saying to call your grandpa, he would explain what was happening. And not to worry.

The midwife came in for another monitoring, and after she left I talked to my mother.

I was feeling very stressed that afternoon, and cried when your papa left. He told me just to try to relax, watch the episode of Conan he had brought me, listen to music, and get some sleep.

So I tried to do that that evening. (I honestly can’t remember any more about this day, but this was the general gist of it). I tried to eat heartily, as I had been told I would be forbidden to eat after midnight, but I couldn’t mAnge my tarte au fromage, due to too much stress. I opened the window and listened to the rain.

And then, I opened up Word on my computer, and decided to write. Writing made me feel more empowered. I wrote this, and after I did, I felt better.

I spoke to my mom again, she was standing on the balcony of their hotel, overlooking a desert canyon. I cried on the phone and told her I was afraid it was going to hurt, and she comforted me.

I tried to watch Conan, took a shower, put my feet on the wall for a while, and turned out the light at eleven.  They had administered an IV with medication to lower my blood pressure earlier in the day, and unfortunately this made it impossible for me to sleep, both because trying to sleep with an IV is terribly uncomfortable, and because the medication they gave me was giving me a headache. At midnight, I turned the light back on, and called my mom again, saying I couldn’t sleep. She told me about her day, what she was doing with her friends in Santa Fe. I felt happy that she had friends around her.

Even if my mother was not physically with me, her presence was felt and helped me a lot, the fact of her being there for me to talk to.

At twelve thirty, I turned the light off again, but sleep still would not come. At one, I noticed blood in the IV. This freaked me out, so I rang for the night staff.

A night nurse came In, and in all fairness,  she was very nice, but unfortunately, she didn’t seem to know what she was doing with the IV. Which, if you know your mama and her dislike for all things needles, you can imagine this was NOT AT ALL what I needed at that particular time. They had put the IV in my wrist originally, and she said she was going to have to redo it. Great. She put it in my left arm, fumbling about a bit, and then left.

At two, I noticed there was blood again. I rang her again. She said she was going to have to redo it AGAIN. GREAT.

I think I slept from about two to four finally, and I woke up because I felt like I had to pee. I stood up from bed, and imagine my surprise when I just started peeing right then and there, and clench as I might, I couldn’t stop.

I darted to the toilet, sat down, and had what I thought was the biggest pee of my life.  But the duration of the pee told me that this was not a pee at all.

I rang the midwife on the buzzer, she asked what was wrong, and I told her I thought I had just broke my water. She didn’t sound like she believed me. She came in, gave me a big pad, mopped up my trail to the bathroom, and told me to go back to sleep and the doctor would be in around seven.

So I did just that, and about thirty minutes later I felt like I had to pee again. I gingerly stepped out of bed, and immediately began leaking warm liquid again.

At this point, heavy with the build up of stress, I just burst out laughing. It was such a funny feeling! To feel like you are going and you just can’t stop. Truly absurd. I called your papa, even though it was five am, which he didn’t much appreciate, and then went back to bed till seven.

A couple of hours later, Em came back and said “Vous avez perdu les eaux, j’ai entendu dire”. She checked me and confirmed that, contrary to yesterday, I was now dilated one centimeter. I asked her if they had given me anything to cause this, and she assured me that no, it had happened on its own, as if the body was saying it was time for this baby to come.

This was good on several levels. First of all, the fact of my waters breaking on their own reassured me that it was indeed ok for you to be born now, that it was time. This meant that a full induction would not need to be started. However, the waters breaking risks infection, so it meant that you would need to arrive within the next 24 hours.

Things were getting good.

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