7/03/2005

Our Birth Story

Well, we did it. Or rather, Alissa did it. I played a minor supporting role in what was quite an epic adventure. Not to spoil the ending, but since we're still in the hospital and I don't know how long I've got until baby has to feed again or one of the nurses stops by to poke & prod my wife, I'll at least get the basic facts out of the way before I go into the gory details.

Samual Alexander Millar was born at 4:42PM on June 30th, 2005. His weight at birth was 7 lbs. 15 oz. and he was 19.5" long. And from his first breath, he changed our lives forever.

Now, let's flash back to Tuesday morning, when Dr. Cohen told us that we were headed to the hospital to be induced...

Sam's 1st Home!

We arrived at Cedars Sinai at 11PM on Tuesday, and Alissa was admitted into the Labor & Delivery unit. After about an hour in the Triage unit, we were shown to a small windowless room that would be our home for the next 18 hours. The first order of business was to give Alissa a Prostaglandin, which would soften her cervix and make it easier for them to induce her for labor. The medicine is on a shoestring and the string is inserted into the cervix and has to stay there for 12 hours to be absorbed. So we spent Tuesday night hanging out, pretending to sleep and nervously anticipating the rest of the journey. It wasn't exactly how we'd planned to begin things, but we were still optimistic.

Our doctor arrived Wednesday at about noon to check Alissa's progress and announce that apparently the prostaglandin had been a big, fat waste of time because Alissa wasn't dilated at all and was still only 70% effaced. Wonderful. So she decided that it was time to start Alissa on Pitosin, to try and get the contractions going. For those of you playing along at home, you'll remember that once upon a time, we'd decided that we were going to have a natural childbirth, free from any pain relief or other drugs. In that scenario, Pitosin was the one thing we’d really wanted to avoid, other than an epidural (this is called foreshadowing, by the way). But in order to be induced, they either have to break your waters (which they couldn't do because Alissa wasn't dilated) or give you Pitosin to start the contractions. We didn't exactly have a choice in the matter.

So at 1PM, they started the Pitosin and hooked Alissa up to a monitor to watch the baby's heart rate and measure the contractions. For the next 7 hours, we watched and waited. The contractions were coming, but they were sporadic and generally not strong enough to indicate that Alissa was going to go into active labor on her own. We were growing more depressed by the minute as we watched our plans for a natural childbirth fade away, knowing that the longer it took, the more likely it was that the doctors would take increasingly drastic measures to get Alissa into labor. And spending 18 hours in a dark, windowless, depressing room didn't exactly help matters either. Neither did the fact that we'd watched the Labor & Delivery Unit fill up and empty twice since we'd been there. and there's nothing more depressing than watching a bunch of pregnant ladies come in, give birth and leave while you labor away getting nowhere. At any rate, by 8PM we were at our wit's end. Thankfully Nurse Wendy who we'd befriended during the night shift the previous evening, came by and saved the day. She pulled rank to get us moved into a huge labor & delivery room, with floor to ceiling windows and a view of the Hollywood Hills. We arrived in our new room right at sunset, and both of us were cheered up just by the sight of sun and sky. It wouldn't last for long though, because the doctors had more tricks up their sleeves.

After we got settled, they checked Alissa again, to see how much progress we'd made. The answer? Zero. Alissa still hadn't dilated at all. They called the doctor and she prescribed a fun little item called a Foley Balloon, which is inserted into the cervix to MANUALLY dilate women in Alissa's condition. It sounded harmless enough and even our nurses told us that it would only take a minute or two to get it in and that it would fall out on it's own a few minutes after that. What they failed to mention was that the cervix needed to be at least 1cm dilated to properly insert the balloon. And Alissa wasn't there yet. What followed can only be described as one of the most upsetting things I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing, at least until the following afternoon. Alissa, still unmedicated and determined to give birth naturally, was basically tortured, while they inserted the balloon. The procedure took about 10 minutes and she writhed in agony the entire time. There was nothing I could do except hold her tightly and tell her it would all be OK. While in the back of my mind I was wondering what had happened to all our plans for this baby's birth.

Once the balloon was inserted, they cranked up the Pitosin, to really get things going. The contractions were booming now, and Alissa was in terrible pain the whole time. We called in our Doula, Stacey Bergin, about 10PM and the look on her face when she saw Alissa told me everything I needed to know. We'd hoped for so long that we'd be able to do this naturally, on our own terms. We'd taken classes, read books, scoured the Internet and talked to dozens of people. But now all our plans had been tossed out the window. It was a really emotional couple of hours, as we came to terms with the fact that things just weren't going to go they way we thought they would. And we had no way of knowing, that was just the beginning. At midnight, Alissa had suffered enough. After 24 hours in the hospital and 48 hours without sleep, we were both emotional and physical wrecks. We talked it over with Stacey, and decided to get Alissa an Epidural. The anesthesiologist came in and worked his magic, and in ten minutes Alissa was feeling no pain. We turned out the lights and decided to get a few hours of sleep, and hope that all the drugs would do their thing.

At 6AM on Thursday morning, they came in to check Alissa again. The Pitosin and the Foley Balloon had done the trick, because she was now dilated to 3cm. That was the good news. The bad news was that during the exam, Sam had what they call a “deceleration” which means that his heart slowed down and was dangerously close to stopping. This apparently happens when the uterus contracts rapidly or for prolonged periods of time, which is an occasional side affect of taking Pitosin. It’s basically like giving the baby a bear hug; after awhile, he can’t breathe. As this was happening, we listened in horror as his heart rate slowed down and then suddenly the room was filled with nurses and doctors, scurrying to help. They immediately removed the Foley Balloon and gave Alissa a shot that would relax her uterus so that the baby could breathe again. It took about six minutes for the drug to take affect, but eventually his heartbeat returned to normal. Suffice it to say that we were pretty shaken up at that point, especially since no one had told us that this could happen. And the calm, unfeeling way that the nurses and doctors reacted was also really unsettling. I know that they have to remain detached to do their jobs, but somehow the idea that my son might stop breathing and die this close to his birth, made me want to grab them all by the collar and scream. I tried my best to get a straight answer and an explanation for what it had happened, but all they could tell me was “ sometimes women with sensitive uteruses have strong reactions to these kinds of drugs.”

By mid-morning, things calmed down from all the earlier excitement. Dr. Cohen stopped by again to check on Alissa and to reassure us that we were having a baby that day, one way or another. This was a nice way of telling us that if Alissa didn’t go into active labor on her own, a cesarean section was the only other option. Still, we help out hope that the Pitosin would move things along, that sam wouln’t have any more “decelerations” and that soon, we’d be on our way. But by 3PM, Alissa was still only 3cm dilated. Dr. Cohen came by and gave us an ultimatum, either Alissa got to at least 4cm by 4PM, or we were headed to the operating room. The next hour was pretty surreal. I climbed into bed with Alissa and held her. We didn’t say much, but I’m sure we were both thinking the same things. We’d been in the hospital for so long, and she’d suffered so much, that it just seemed that the best thing to do was get it all over with, as quickly as possible. So when 4PM rolled around and it turned out that she was still at 3cm, I was secretly relived that we’d be able to see our Son soon. Once the doctor had made the decision, things started happening really quickly. They prepped Alissa for surgery and I was issued a set of scrubs to wear in the O.R. They went over the procedure with us and reassured Alissa that it would all be over in a flash and that she wouldn’t feel a thing. They even allowed us to bring a CD of our own music, to listen to during the birth. Minutes later they wheeled her in, asking me to wait outside for just a few seconds while they got her prepped. From the other side of the door I paced nervously, anxious to see my child and finally get Alissa through it all. Then I suddenly heard shouting, and the doctor saying “the baby is crashing, we have to get him out NOW! MOVE!!!” He was having another, much more severe deceleration. His little heart was stopping.

Needless to say, I completely freaked out. I stood there alone, listening to the operating team on the other side of the door spring into action. There were sounds of feet shuffling and of instruments being rushed into position. I later learned that Alissa, strapped to the operating table and scared to death, was desperately asking them to let me into the room, only to be told that there wasn’t time. I was nearly in tears when the door flew open, and a masked nurse grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room. My head was spinning as she pushed me down into a chair at Alissa’s head. I squeezed her hand and tried to look calm as I listened to the doctors working on the other wide of the curtain that blocked our view of what was happening. Literally within seconds they had cut her open and were getting the baby out. Before I could wrap my head around what they were doing to my wife, one of the technicians grabbed my elbow and said to me, “ stand up and look, you don’t want to miss this!” My knees wobbled and I stood up to peer over the curtain. My son’s head was just being pulled out of my wife’s belly. Her organs were laid out on her chest, and there was blood everywhere. Completely in shock, I watched the doctors pull Sam’s little body out, and immediately rush him to a table behind me. He was bluish grey, and he wasn’t moving. I sat back down and stared at Alissa, trying to look brave as she asked me how he looked. “He’s fine, he’s beautiful,” I replied. Then I craned my neck to try and get a glimpse of them working on his little body. A team of doctors and specialists surrounded him, and I could see through the space between them that they were pumping oxygen into him, and sticking tubes into his lungs to suction out the liquid. The quiet was awful as we waited for a cry, a scream, anything that would let us know that our son was alive. In fact, the only sound we could hear was the music from the CD we’d asked them to play. The song was “All I want is You,” by U2.

finally!

I desperately asked the doctors to tell us how he was, and finally someone replied, “ we don’t know yet, just be calm.” Definitely not the words that panicked parents want to hear in that situation. But slowly, his color started coming back and I heard someone say that his breathing was coming back as well. I felt like I was watching an episode of ER, except that it was my life and this was all terrifyingly real. A few minutes later, another doctor came over to tell us that Sam was breathing on his own, and looked like he was going to make it, but that they had to take him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit right away because he had fluid in his lungs. Alissa and I burst into tears and held each other, thankful to finally see our son, but scared to death that he still might not be OK. I slowly stood up as they led me over to the table where he lay, and looked at my son for the first time. His eyes were closed, but they’d cleaned him up enough for me to see how adorable he was. He looked so incredibly innocent laying there, fighting for his life, and reaching out for someone to hold him. The doctors asked me if I wanted to cut his umbilical cord, and handed me a pair of surgical scissors. I quickly cut it and they wrapped him up to take him away. Before they put him into an incubator, I asked them to bring him over to Alissa, who was till strapped to the table getting sewn up. They rested him on her shoulder and she cried while I took a quick picture. Then they put him into his little incubator and told me to follow them as they rushed him up to Intensive Care. Alissa, who been incredible throughout the entire ordeal, told me to go with him, and that she’d see me in a few minutes. I let go of her hand, and turned to go.

Alissa holds Sam for the first time

Upstairs, they whisked Sam into the NICU, and I looked at amazement at all the babies being cared for. There must have been 50 infants of all shapes and sizes, all with different types of medical issues, some clearly much more serious than Sam’s. They found a space for him, and the surgical team turned him over to the nurses. I watched and listened as they told me what was wrong and how they hoped to treat him. As I knew, his heart had slowed down and almost stopped. The doctors believed that when Alissa had received the big dose of anesthesia that she needed for the surgery, her uterus had contracted forcefully, and wouldn’t relax. On top of that, Sam had aspirated a good deal of muconium, which is basically baby poop. When babies are stressed out in the womb, and particularly when they are past their due dates, sometimes they poop. Sam had obviously been under a good deal of stress, and in the process of being born, he’d swallowed a bunch of the stuff. According to the nurses, that could mean that he’d catch pneumonia, or have a lung infection, or worse. Or his little body could reabsorb the muconium, and everything would be fine. Though at the time, that didn’t seem very likely. So I said goodbye to my son, and left him in their care, so I could go tell my wife what had happened.

Boy in the bubble

Downstairs, Alissa was recovering from her surgery. She was groggy and nauseous, so I tried to be optimistic when I described what the nurses had told me. Still, I couldn’t disguise my concern. I kissed her cheek and went out to tell the family waiting in the lobby the news. Everyone took it in stride, happy to hear that Sam had finally been born, but obviously concerned that he wasn’t out of the woods. I went back inside to sit with Alissa, and wait for more news.

A few hours later they finally moved us to a real room, where we could get some much-needed sleep and wait for Sam. We said goodbye to our parents and turned out the lights. That night I dreamed that I’d returned to the NICU to get Sam, but that when I got there his little incubator was empty and no one knew where he was. I woke up to the sound of a knock at the door and realized it was morning.

We opened the door to find the “other” Dr. Cohen, our pediatrician. He greeted us with a smile, and said that he’d just been upstairs to see Sam. He told us that although he still had a little fluid in his lungs, most of it had been reabsorbed by his body during the night. He also said that he’d tested negative for any infections, but that they were giving him some antibiotics as a precautionary measure. I was fighting back tears when he told us that Sam had been discharged from the NICU and was being brought down to the nursery. We were free to go and see him. We thanked him and rushed to get ready. I asked the nurses for a wheelchair for Alissa and we went over to the other wing of the hospital to find out little boy. When we entered the nursery, several of the people who been in the OR for his birth were there, and they all smiled. They showed us into the room where he was sleeping, and suddenly we realized that the worst day of our lives had been followed by the best day of our lives. It was hard to believe that we were going to be able to hold him after all we’d been though, but the nurses told us to go ahead and pick up our son. Alissa lifted his little body up, I hugged them both, and the two of us cried. It had been a VERY long journey, but it was finally over. Sam had made it, and we were never going to let him go.

LOVE

2 Comments:

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a heartwarming story. I am so happy it all came out well. Experiences such as these make us aware of how fragile and precious life is.

Jo
(A Sanibel Sweetie)

 
At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you all. I am so thankful for Sam's ultimately healthy arrival and pray Mother and Father are doing well.
Kyle, your "Birth Story" is an inspirational and magical account of Sam's arrival. I am so happy for your family! Please send congratulations to Alissa. She is such a tremendous woman and Mother.
Every blessing,
Jen B.

 

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